Every journalist should use a VPN (virtual private network) to hide their internet traffic in real-time, especially when sending sensitive information.
A virtual private network (VPN) is a digital tool that hides internet traffic in real-time by creating an encrypted tunnel for data to travel through, protecting a user’s identity. Users should never perform even slightly sensitive tasks on a public network without a VPN.
When seeking a VPN yourself, always do research on its reputation and users’ feedback. Free VPNs should not be considered, as it is highly possible they will collect and sell users’ data. For a checklist on what to look out for when using a new digital tool, you may refer here.
Traffic and metadata protected
While an encrypted app protects messages from being seen, it does not securely protect a user’s metadata such as location, destination, search history and online purchasing history. The app can even continue to transmit this metadata when it is not in use and is not necessarily encrypted by default, potentially endangering users by selling this information.
When a VPN is switched on, it also protects a user’s metadata by making it unreadable for ISPs while it goes through the encrypted tunnel. However, a VPN alone is not sufficient to provide complete protection and it should be used in conjunction with security-focused browsers and apps such as Tor or Signal.
Use of VPNs within China
China’s “Great Firewall” presents a significant challenge for most VPNs. As VPNs have evolved, the Chinese government has tried to keep pace by circumnavigating the added security measures. While VPNs are illegal and incredibly difficult to access in China, some are committed to finding new ways to bring the freedom of the internet to the country’s more than one billion internet users. Before going to China must always download a VPN as the means to download any safe VPN will be blocked in the country.
Two VPNs that work in China recommended by tech experts are NordVPN and Surfshark. Both have thousands of servers, are no-log verified (does not store users information) and are reasonably priced. Other highly recommended VPNs for use outside of China include F-Secure FREEDOME VPN, Proton VPN and Watchguard.
Written by Benjamin Finn. From Houston (USA), Benjamin has been in the IT field for a decade, during which his primary focus was the deployment of internal security tools across large enterprises. Over the last two years, he has been researching on how to maintain proper security in the context of an oppressive nation-state, specifically in the context of Myanmar. He has also been working with multiple groups in Taiwan to train them on proper security and safety measures.