Working as a whistleblower is extremely challenging, now more than ever. As the technology advances, the organizations that you are trying to investigate and unmask can increase their privacy, and even constantly monitor their employees.
The bigger they get, the more dangerous they are, and harder it is for you to stay anonymous. Investigating the governments is by far the most difficult task since they can use basically infinite resources. Because of that, it is important to realize that not even this guide can help you out in absolutely every possible situation.
A lot of situations that you might find yourself in will have different circumstances, and you will have to think on your feet. We can, however, give you some general directions and tips for you to have in mind.
We will mostly concentrate on the biggest problem that whistleblowers have, which is how to safely communicate while working undercover.
Stay away from unsafe computers
Always remember that computers are not neutral. They serve their owners, which means that you can never know what sort of software they have secretly installed.
In order to stay safe and not blow your cover, you must find a way to use a safe computer. The best solution is to you yourself install an operating system. That way, you will know for sure that there are no spyware or some similar software recording everything you do. Alternatively, you can use a live operating system from a USB stick. for this, we recommend using TAILS.
When it comes to moving files, it is incredibly risky to just take them from an unsafe computer. It is much better to take a picture via smartphone, or even write down some of the most important info. Sure, that is quite risky as well, but it is still safer than being obvious about it.
So basically, try not to appear suspicious and don’t change your routine and regular patterns. And when you wish to communicate with others, use your personal devices, but only if you are sure that they are safe.
Networks will log all of the information
Network monitoring is as often as monitoring of the devices themselves, which means that you must protect your connection. Otherwise, you might blow your cover and endanger the entire job.
The network could not only record all of the unusual patterns, and also every piece of data that is sent and received. They can even break the TLS encryption, and see what is going on underneath the protection.
There are still other solutions, however, and the best would be to use a VPN or Tor network. Tor will send your data through thousands of relays, and that way, anyone who tries to follow it will eventually lose track.
And when it comes to VPNs, they use a different method. They shield your data with a secure tunnel and then encrypt it so that nobody can tell what they are looking at, even if they somehow saw it. The best options here are PIA, IPVanish, TorGuard, and GhostVPN.
Don’t forget about scanners and printers
These devices will also record everything that they print, and even the time of the printing itself. Some of them will even keep digital copies of the printed documents.
Even more importantly, they leave their trace on the paper you use for printing. By analyzing that digital track, it is possible to even trace any document to the printer that it was made on. These features exist in order to catch those who would print fake bank notes at home. However, ignoring it can endanger whistleblower’s mission.
The only thing that you can do is not to print anything. You can only try to leak documents in their physical form. And if they are already scanned, then leak the electronic form. The safest procedure will take some time, but it is definitely the best, and that is to transcribe documents by hand. Later, you can type them back into a text document when you can. And don’t forget to destroy the handwritten copy.
Even phones can blow your cover
Trusting your phone is a bad idea, even if it is your personal device. If your company isn’t tracking it themselves, it is possible that they are taking reports from the telecom provider.
It seems naive, but tracking a phone can result in a lot of information that can put your task in danger. For example, it is really hard to turn off location trackers. And if you miss something, or if you have a phone on you while you are visiting the press or a regulator, it will show.
Not to mention the fact that both calls, as well as messages, have absolutely no encryption, and same goes for phone browsing. Even the apps that you are using might betray you since they collect a lot of data themselves. If the organization that you are investigating knows which apps you use, they might monitor you through them.
So don’t use your phone too much, and don’t take it with you when you are at a meeting with others. If you have to use them for communication, only use messengers with encryption. Signal is your best option here.
Other options here include buying a used phone and a prepaid SIM card. Even if you do this, use the phone only when necessary, far from your home, and keep it off whenever you are not using it.
Watch out for money trail
Never use cards, since they will always leave a trail which can be used for tracking your activities. Even if you aren’t carrying your phone, your card can still give off info about your movements.
The same goes for an electrical transportation ticket. If you use it for going to some unusual locations, it might raise an alarm. So, whenever you are meeting someone of your ‘other’ co-workers, always use cash only. It is also a good habit to only use cash always, and only use your card to get to the cash on ATM’s.
That way, nobody can ever trace you or figure out a pattern concerning your shopping habits. Alternatives to this are gift cards, or Bitcoin if you live somewhere where cryptocurrencies are largely accepted.
Everything has metadata
Keeping an eye on how you use your email, chat, texts, or calls is not enough if you want to stay anonymous. Depending on how much surveillance can the organization you’re investigating afford, your every click might be dangerous.
Pretty much everything that you could possibly do online leaves some sort of trace. This includes credit card swipes, text messages. bus rides, Google searches, printing, and pretty much every click. Not even paper mail can escape this, and the information about you is out there, no matter how safe you try to live.
That means that you need to watch out for your routine and try not to do anything suspicious. If you usually don’t go out, then leave your phone at home when you actually do. Turn on a TV, or do something similar that will suggest that you are still at home.
A digital footprint is something that you can’t escape from, but if you play it smart, you can use it to your advantage. And any metadata that you can remove, you should remove. That includes using different software in order to do it properly and also using file types with minimum metadata.
Consider avoiding digital leaks and communication
If you know how to make yourself safe online, and have a lot of experience in that field, you can probably pull it off. However, if you are unsure, or not that skilled, then you should consider mailing documents via the good old fashion way.
Disappearing online is a very useful skill, but not everyone can do it properly. If there is even the slightest chance that your identity is in danger, don’t do it this way.
So, in short, you should never use anything but your own devices. The same goes for the network, especially if you can’t protect yourself with the maximum security and efficiency. Avoid scanners or printers, since they can betray you and reveal what you are doing.
Also, avoid phones, since their safety is minimal, or even non-existent. Using them is more likely to blow your cover than to actually help, especially if you take them with you while you are breaking your routine.
Credit cards can leave a trace of your activities and show irregularities, which means that using them is a bad idea too.
Try to remain aware of your habits, and also try not to break your routine. If you are being monitored, someone will notice, and it can end up with you becoming the number one suspect.
Do whatever you can to decrease your digital footprint. Too much information about you and your actions is sure to betray you.