Journalists Are Major Targets for Hacks

ChatMail   |   January 1, 2022

Journalists Are Major Targets for Hacks

Digital privacy is an ever-present news story with many headlines featuring high-profile victims of hacking incidents. From corporate leaders to international policymakers, prominent people have long been the target of privacy breaches with humiliating results, often ending in a reputational crisis.

Investigative journalists have been targeted by hacking tools and spied upon by powerful adversaries. Having an encrypted phone with extensive privacy features, like ChatMail offers, is the best way to avoid being hacked, keeping correspondents safe online and in the field.

Pegasus in Hungary

Some journalists may prefer to keep a low profile, so their subjects don’t know they’re being watched. This is the approach used by photojournalist Dániel Németh, who exposed the lavish lifestyles of Hungarian politicians and pro-government business leaders.

A forensic audit found two of Németh’s phones were hacked by government clients of Pegasus spyware. Citizen Lab, at the University of Toronto, verified his phone had spyware. This surveillance tool allows the target’s phone to be monitored, tapping into conversations, text messages, pictures and even the user’s physical location. The reconnaissance occurred just as he was reporting on an old friend of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán..

Journalists are wise to prevent smartphone security and data breaches by using a hardened device built from the ground up for privacy.

Phones that let you encrypt pictures, taken with an internal custom camera, enable you to secure your images just as you would with text messages and notes.

Hacking in Lebanon

Most people think you need to click on a dubious link before your phone can be infected with spyware. But as one reporter learned the hard way, your phone can be hacked even if you don’t take the clickbait.

New York Times Beirut Bureau Chief Ben Hubbard was the target of multiple cyber-attacks while working as an investigative journalist and author in the Middle East. After dodging a phishing attack in 2018, his phone was compromised when he received a WhatsApp message. Hubbard was unaware he had become the victim of a Zero-Click exploit.

Used by billions of people worldwide, WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, whose parent company, Meta is one of the world’s largest data collectors. Despite touting “end-to-end encryption,” WhatsApp collects and stores user’s personal data on its’ servers, leaving their private information vulnerable to be exploited by hackers. The platform has had numerous data breaches and the company routinely sells user data to advertisers as part of its business model.

Journalists may have their privacy breached when, like Hubbard, they receive a personalized WhatsApp message designed to entrap them. Users need to be aware of smartphone security issues that can make it easy to track you. Therefore, it is best to not use free platforms for encrypted communications.

Hubbard was targeted multiple times by the NSO’s Pegasus KINGDOM spyware, while he was reporting on Saudi Arabia and writing a book about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, from 2018 to 2021. MBS is believed to have ordered the same spyware be used to track Jamal Khashoggi, the self-exiled Saudi journalist, who was living in America prior to his 2018 murder in Saudi Arabia.

Features to Stay Above the Fray

Journalists need to work freely and securely, which is difficult to do in 2022 without an encrypted phone. Relying on free communications like WhatsApp, which is known for its vulnerabilities, doesn’t provide the necessary protection and can potentially put the lives of journalists, or their sources, at risk.

ChatMail phones have military-grade encryption and secondary features that make it impossible for anyone to access your private data. These devices intentionally prevent the use of third-party apps, eliminating the risks of breaches and security risks they present.

The custom designed server supporting ChatMail only stores the most basic information, like username, activation data and expiry date. It doesn’t store contacts, notes, photos, or messages.

By the nature of their work, journalists can make powerful enemies who could easily employ hackers to target them. Only the security of end-to-end encryption provided by an encrypted cell phone like ChatMail will be able to truly give journalists the maximum privacy they require.