Teaching Digital Security

Marc Ambinder

A main goal of the Annenberg Digital Security Initiative is to create a digital security curriculum for folks who have legitimate digital security needs — that would be everyone, of course — and have neither the time nor the expertise to kluge one together. The first step for us was to create a class for journalists and communicators.

I won’t share the syllabus just yet, but I wanted to share the preamble to the course, which I’ll teach with CNN national correspondent (and former FBI agent) Josh Campbell next Spring.

“Right now, you – the person reading this description – are hemorrhaging a trail of personal data that others are eagerly exploiting.  If you live and work in the digital dimension, your stuff, your work, your property, your ideas – are highly vulnerable to hacks, attacks, sabotage, and harassment. From foreign governments hacking into production servers, to the spoofing of news articles, to competitive theft and online harassment, the information environment is full of snares.

This course is a practical introduction to the essentials of digital security for professional communicators – reporters, public relations strategists, diplomats-in-training, politicians, reporters, speechwriters, communications managers and directors,  brand influencers, press spokespeople – really, anyone whose job requires them to protect intellectual property, ideas, designs, and concepts, or the integrity of communications between you and your clients or sources. 

Students will not only be able to practice better security, but they’ll be able to teach those whose lives and livelihoods depends upon the secure transmission of information.  This is not a course for engineers. It’s a course that uses what computer engineers know about the internet, what spies and hackers know, what the government and big corporations know – and translates those specialized and technical concepts into plain language and ready-to-use tactics to fight against them.  It’s taught by a renowned investigative journalist and teacher and a former FBI agent, both of whom will distill the best available practices so you can serve your clients, sources, publications, audience and the public more securely and more efficiently, all without cluttering your mind with too much technical gobbledygook.

Overall Learning Objectives and Assessment

— Identify threats to the information security environment for communicators
— describe the basic structure of the internet and understand its inherent design flaws, informing their practice – including the vulnerability of the cloud, the layers of the Internet, ISP data collection, service providers, devices, credential verification, digital certificates

— Assess, and reduce their social, digital and personal footprints, as needed

— How to travel abroad (and anywhere near the U.S. border) with sensitive information

— Describe the laws governing search, seizure, access, and communications interception and apply that knowledge to protect their own and others’ information   

— Use tools to protect their own and others’ information

— Analyze information risks in communication scenarios and create strategies to minimize those risks 

Feedback is most welcome!