A man from the Windows contingent raised his hand and asked about some of these programs’ potential weak points. Valentino-DeVries emphasized that no system is completely secure. Every piece of software has its flaws. And common mistakes like using weak, crackable passwords or connecting to insecure online networks can make whatever software you’re using moot in any case.

If a person (or company, or agency) really, really wants to hack your computer, they probably will be able to do so, Valentino-DeVries said: Don’t rely on encryption to safeguard a source’s life. There are far more extreme measures to be taken in that case, as this blog post that Hacks/Hackers sent out before the Meetup describes.

The main takeaway of the event was that, regardless of the type of journalism you do, it’s in your best interest to at least experiment with encryption and security before you actually “need” them. Just because any given security system isn’t perfect, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth using any security system at all. Yes, it may seem complicated at times, but it can be easy to get the hang of, and it’s good practice—especially if you could imagine doing more sensitive work in the future.

“Even if the men in suits aren’t after you, there are benefits to everyday crypto,” read another slide in the presentation. Valentino-DeVries said that, in addition to making you a better prepared, more knowledgeable, and versatile journalist, learning these basic skills can incrementally benefit all of your colleagues, as well. Some government officials have actually stated in previous legal cases that a person’s using cryptography at all was a “red flag” that that person could be doing something illegal, and was therefore a worthy subject of investigation, said Valentino-DeVries.

“Normalizing the use of these tools legally makes it more apparent that we all have an interest in our own privacy, and an expectation of privacy in our communication,” she said, “even if we’re using the Internet and third parties and doing our communicating online.”

 

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner