The New Yorker, a magazine owned by Condé Nast Publications, released a new online service called Strongbox this morning. First put together by Aaron Swartz, who died in January, and Kevin Poulsen, Strongbox allows people to send documents and messages to the magazine with a reasonable amount of anonymity.
For a long time now, anonymity has been a big issue with journalism. Often times sources will send confidential or even potentially dangerous information to journalists. Doing so anonymously means that they needn’t fear repercussions for leaking information, but modern technology has made it increasingly easier for people to track down and identify sources. Without the ability to be anonymous, many sources refrain from contacting journalists out of fear of being identified.
With Strongbox, however, sources can send as much information as they want to journalists with a reasonable degree of safety and anonymity. The technology isn’t limited to just The New Yorker, though. The underlying Strongbox code will be open-source, allowing other media outlets or organizations to take it, modify it and use it as they see fit.
People wanting to upload files or messages to Strongbox must first access the Tor network, a free software application that enables online anonymity. Once the upload is complete the user will receive a randomly generated codename and the files will be encrypted using a powerful data encryption program called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP).
The encrypted files will then be transmitted to a different server, one that is separate from the Condé Nast network, and editors for the New Yorker will download them to a thumb drive using a laptop with a virtual private network (VPN). The thumb drive is then connected to a second laptop that isn’t connected to the internet and the editors begin downloading and decrypting the files. Once this is all finished, New Yorker editors will be able to message the user through Strongbox, but the message will only be visible if the user returns to Strongbox and uses the same codename.
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