Troubled Times

In times of trouble, citizens can feel a sense of deep helplessness. With war, famine, or political unrest raging outside of their window, many feel compelled to help or somehow make a difference, but may not understand how their position is valued.

The organization Reporters Without Borders is a consultant for the United Nations and aims at defending freedom of press and information. They have been active in filing complaints to the International Criminal Court regarding the Russian military attacks on journalists and in assisting with reporting the tragedies in Ukraine more generally. Journalists with jobs as dangerous as this use a wide variety of tools to release data, but they are not inaccessible to the public.

Availability of Services

Availability of communications (and basic services) is one of the first major concerns limiting speech in times of crisis. This may be an attempted shutoff from communications outside the country or simply an issue with delivery of services. Either way, this problem must be addressed before any other.

Ukrainians continue to face a crisis of the availability of basic utilities and tools for freedom of communication. This starts with internet access. Connections to primary ISPs in Ukraine are down a massive amount since the start of the invasion, to the point of showing a notable dip on monitoring maps.

However, Ukraine also has deep complexity in their smaller independent internet providers, unlike some countries which may rely on only a few larger monopolies. This creates a situation in which censorship by government entities becomes far more difficult to perform and utilities have more stability. Ukraine has faced censorship in the past, but there is some hope in satellite communications, which require far less infrastructure on the ground than traditional cable or fiber.

Starlink, which uses advanced satellites in low orbit, has been providing internet access to citizens who may not otherwise be able to access cable infrastructure due to damage or dangerous conditions. Though it is not the only option to evade censorship, it is likely quite appreciated by citizens in dire need or with less technical prowess.

Evading Censorship

In the world of cybersecurity, we have a lot of tools for evading censorship. The most traditional - such as VPNs or Virtual Private Networks - are a method of subverting prying eyes of internet providers or possible eavesdroppers on the local network.

Tor browsers are another option, being easily downloadable from the internet. They allow a user to connect into a vast network of open-source nodes that bounce around a user's communications and make it harder to track them. Both common solutions allow users to access items that would otherwise be banned, dodging censorship, tracking, and monitoring by all forms of bad actors.

A step up from this is eliminating digital fingerprint. An example is through flashing an image of Tails (a Linux distribution specifically aimed towards privacy and security, famously used by Edward Snowden) to a flashdrive and using it to disseminate information, something recommended for use by Reporters Without Borders.

End-to-End Encryption

Over the years, we've also seen increasing popularity in applications like Signal, which provide end-to-end encryption on messages in an easily accessible mobile app. End-to-end encryption is vital when service providers can't be trusted to keep their eyes off of communications, because only the end users (the senders and recipients) are privy to the unencrypted data.

Some applications are very close to end-to-end encryption or have options for it, such as Telegram. These can be equally good options for everyday use, but those looking for a ‘private pipeline’ for communications should use caution and ensure their level of privacy is what they desire. The risk of using applications like this is usually low, and to most, readily available.

Courage Under Fire

As the war in Ukraine continues to devastate the country, it is vital that citizens and journalists under siege are able to access and transmit critical and accurate information. With cities and townships under almost constant bombardment, the ability to intercept or receive information or timely warnings can help keep people safe.

Journalists and media workers risk their lives to provide war coverage, as well as document evidence of atrocities. Using these tools and techniques can help at-risk journalists and civilians stay connected to critical emergency services, utilities, and life-saving information.

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