Digital Security Lab
The newly founded Digital Security Lab is a digital forensic laboratory created to help counter the threats of online surveillance. The Lab was designed for journalists who fear that their phone or computer is subject to digital surveillance, infected with spyware, or that one of their social media accounts has been taken over.
Who can contact the Digital Security Lab?
In principle, any journalist can contact the Digital Security Lab if they have a plausible suspicion that they have become the target of digital espionage because of their journalistic work. Plausible suspicion exists, for example, if a person has received sophisticated phishing messages. Other grounds for suspicion are inexplicable information leaks or general acts of repression by an authoritarian state towards the journalist. The more likely it is that powerful and influential people don't like a journalist's work, the greater the potential threat.
How does the Digital Security Lab work?
The Digital Security Lab is an international project by RSF. In Berlin, a team of three experts will examine the end devices of journalists for traces of known spying technology. Hackers often use phishing tricks to get journalists to click on a link or open an attachment. Accordingly, the search for clues and traces generally starts with the analysis of suspicious messages to find out whether they are a front for spyware. In addition, the team examines installed programmes and checks for other data traces that might offer clues about previously executed programmes or activities. The behaviour of an end device can also provide information about which internet connections are coming from the device, for example.
Background: Pegasus revelations in July 2021
On 18 July 2021, research by an international media network revealed that the phones of tens of thousands of politicians, human rights activists and journalists had potentially been hacked using the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli cyber-arms company NSO Group. The list of phone numbers included those of more than 200 journalists. On 20 July 2021, RSF and two journalists from Morocco and France filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor's office. Shortly afterwards another 17 journalists from seven countries followed suit. In addition, a broad alliance of non-profit organisations and professionals called for sanctions against NSO Group.
In addition to offering practical support to journalists targeted by digital surveillance, Reporters Without Borders has campaigned for many years for the introduction of effective regulations to govern the export of surveillance technology.
The Digital Security Lab is funded by the Postcode Lottery.