Won't Somebody Please Think of the Journalists?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 - 1:00pm1:30pm

Tom Lowenthal, Staff Technologist, Committee to Protect Journalists


When researching security/privacy and developing tools, it is tempting to focus on the abstract technical merits of a problem. In practice, attacks are not graded for difficulty, only success. Why spend the time and expense of a zero-day exploit which bypasses ASLR to achieve remote code execution when spearphishing is so effective? The biggest barriers to widespread computer security are not technical. Wide deployment of privacy-preserving tools and trustworthy computers isn't limited by cutting-edge challenges in cryptography or formal methods. The obstacles are getting everyday tools to implement secure development best-practices, incorporate end-to-end crypto, and offer multi-factor authentication. The problem is fighting an endless public relations war about whether we should have to invent the impossible to create back-doors or design tools which protect their users except when the user is trying to do something bad.

Here's the trick: think and talk about journalists. Talking about journalism as a first-class use case changes the mental calculus. It allows for focus on the real technical challenges of developing safe systems, and bypasses poorly-thought-out objections. Even better, thinking about the needs of journalists as first class users helps make design choices which better protect all users.

Tom Lowenthal, Staff Technologist, Committee to Protect Journalists

Tom Lowenthal is a technologist and activist committed to combating our contemporary cyberpunk mass-surveillance dystopia. By day, he's the staff technologist for the tech program at the Committee to Protect Journalists. By night, he practices robust self-care because mental health is important and burnout can be a killer. Tom's also a fellow at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society; he's previously worked at the Tor Project and Mozilla. He's a big believer in individual privacy, self-determination, and practical usable tools.

@conference {202506,
author = {Tom Lowenthal},
title = {Won{\textquoteright}t Somebody Please Think of the Journalists?},
year = {2017},
address = {Oakland, CA},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},