Activists and journalists aren’t the only people who fight fraud, injustice, and censorship; ordinary people do, too. However, in the digital age, where every step can be tracked, how can you be a whistleblower while staying anonymous?
To blow the whistle safely and successfully, you need to understand the risks:
Many things can help investigators to reveal your identity, from the devices you use to collect and share sensitive information to hard copies of documents you leak or even the people you’ve spoken to. However, if you are serious about keeping your identity anonymous, you might want to know how information about you, the whistleblower, can be collected by authorities.
Most employers have monitoring software installed on their computers to track everything you do, from your internet browsing history to what files you’ve accessed, copied and shared. Queries for large quantities of data that you’ve never requested before, unknown USBs to move files, suddenly encrypted connections – all of this might raise suspicion or let them track you.
Let’s not forget that all social media and email accounts track your IP address and location. They keep a log of previous sessions too. Once you secure your accounts, don’t forget that the files you share can carry metadata. Word, Excel or PDF documents can all show who created the file and when and where they did it.
Phone use also carries a significant risk of being exposed. All modern smartphones have GPS features and can tell service providers your location even when the GPS is turned off. Imagine the information someone might gather by listening to your past conversations on unencrypted calling and messaging apps.
Scanned and printed documents can also give out a lot of information about their source. Printers and scanners tend to keep timestamps and user information. Most printed documents have tracking codes that could help detect which printer was used to print it out.
Also, don’t forget that your handwriting can easily reveal your identity. Signed documents, handwritten notes, even an address written on an anonymous letter sent to an independent newspaper – all can be associated and linked back to you.
Less and less people use cash, and the use of electronic payments makes it incredibly easy to track their every move. Electronic transactions leave a trail. A cup of coffee you bought at a cafe or a bus ticket to the other side of town can help an investigator discover when and where you met with someone and possibly blew the whistle.
It might not come as a surprise, but other people can be the reason why you won’t stay anonymous for long. Have you spoken to someone about an issue at work that then hit the headlines of the New York Times? It’s very likely you will become a scapegoat. Did you meet a journalist at a local bar? There will be plenty of witnesses to confirm that you were there.
Magazines or whistleblower reward agencies will do their best to hide your identity, though it might not always be possible. They might ask you to reveal and confirm your identity to file a case against your company or to prove that the documents you provided are legitimate.
If you think that there’s a chance that you’ll need to reveal your identity, consider getting a lawyer. He or she can help you understand what type of information will be valid (or not) in any potential court cases. They will also be able to represent you to other parties so you don’t ever need to meet anyone in person.
There are many things you need to consider if you want to blow the whistle and stay anonymous. NordVPN can help you to hide your IP address and your location so that your internet browsing activity cannot be seen by any prying eyes.
We understand that anonymous whistleblowing is a risky business and that sometimes, staying anonymous might not be possible for reasons entirely out of your control. If you decide to take the risk, make sure your actions are part of the fight for the greater good! Depending on your situation, you may also qualify for our emergency VPN access.
Use NordVPN to hide your traffic and stay anonymous!