Media support: Souriatna, syrian media exiled in Istanbul

Last February, Jawad, the founder and chief editor of Souriatna, our friend, contacted and asked us for support.

The context

Souriatna is an independent Syrian media exiled in Turkey.  Souriatna owns a website but also prints and distributes every week a newspaper in  Syrian opposition areas and some countries of asylum, inside refugees camps. Free of charge.

Souriatna has frequent collaborations with foreign media. A few years ago, French newspaper Liberation published one of Souriatna’s cover as a support for the media.

Souriatna covers are always very impacting.

The problem

The threats against Souriatna started in 2015 when the media used the famous “Je suis Charlie” as its cover and clearly stated its solidarity with “Charlie Hebdo”.

Their website was hacked for the first time at the beginning of 2015. It has been hacked again in February 2016 and has been down for three consecutive months. The team managed to bring their website back on line but they lost all their archives.

Souriatna team is composed of 3 journalists, an intern and many freelance correspondents on the ground. As every small independent media,  Souriatna does not have the “luxury” to integrate IT skills. In January 2018, Souriatna office relocated to a new place in Istanbul.  This recent move put them in a position where they did not had any more efficient digital protection : no VPN for the office and no backup process. Jawad asked Nothing2Hide to help him to secure Souriatna data and communication.

What we did

Jean-Marc and I (Grégoire) have been doing many digital safety trainings in the past years. We learned that the most efficient way to help journalists or activists when it comes to digital safety is to stick to their process and try to strengthen those as much as possible. Telling to everybody : “Switch to linux and use PGP” is not a viable solution in the long term. Telling journalists or activists “Go and check the github repository of this new fancy tool I’ve created” does not help either. We believe adoption and long term support up is the key when it comes to digital safety.

With the support of our funder, Open Technology Fund (remember, our name is Nothing2Hide), we decided to visit Souriatna office to perform a security audit of the network and of the process. We did this audit on our first day in Istanbul (after a very strange travel from Paris to Istanbul, but this is another story). We then spent 3 days to install tools and to train the team use them !

  • We checked the computers, changed some basics privacy parameters and installed some useful protections;
  • We secured the office Internet connection and taught the staff how to encrypt sensitive data (using veracrypt);
  • We identified sensitive data and created a specific backup process for those;
  • We created an automatic process for Souriatna website. This was surprisingly one of the most tricky part of this mission since their webhost was not particularly easy to reach (hence the need to be on the ground)

The most important part of our work with Souriatna is that we did not change their main process, or if we did, those were only slightly changes.

A bridge

Souriatna case is an example of Nothing2Hide set of mind : act as a bridge between the tech community and those who need digital safety. We have for instance install the USB sanitizer box created by Circl (Hi Raphael). It’s basically a box that cleans a flash drive before you plug it on your computer and prevents you to get malwares on your computer (not all, but most, there nothing 100% safe when it comes to digital safety).

Installing this software on a raspberry pi is really not rocket science if you know how to use a terminal, what a raspberry pi is and where to find the project. However this is not something journalists or human rights defenders will ever do. This is not their job and this is not their area of competence.

Being on the ground, building a trusting relation with partners is necessary if you want to spread the use great technical projects that would actually be extremely useful to journalists and activists but won’t ever be used if they remain only in a github repository. The good news is that we know a lot of media that do a great job, just as Souriatna, and there are a lot of great projects out there.

Nour, journalist at Souriatna

We leave the last word of this post to the people who are the most involved in this project : the team of Souriatna. Nour, journalist, explains her work, her commitment, the utility of this kind of project and their need of support.

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