Tails: Tell me more about your work and Leaks.

Roberto: I'm a journalist and I work for an organization that does investigative journalism. I'm in charge of being the first filter for the information that arrives on Leaks.

Leaks is an alliance of news rooms across the country. It relies on cybersecurity tools such as a leaking platform to protect its sources. The news rooms in the alliance are very diverse, which is a strength because different organizations will be interested in different leaks. The leaks could be about a court case, a public servant, or an environmental issue.

Leaks is based on GlobaLeaks. When you submit a leak, you describe briefly what your leak is about and you can choose to send it to all the news rooms in the alliance or to some news rooms only.

Recently, we enlarged the alliance to include a network of journalists that are working all across the country. When we started the alliance in 2015, it was very hard to include organizations based outside of the capital town because of the technical burden that it represents.

T: Your organization seems to have a lot of technical staff, are you in a privileged position in comparison with other news rooms?

R: There is a big lack of technical education among the journalists in the country, especially among the ones outside of the capital town. My organization is extremely privileged in this regard. Because technology is a strong strategic line in the organization, because we have some technical staff, and because we're in the capital town. Being in the capital town makes it easier for us to get more resources but also to work with the best people.

For example, my position is full time but, usually, journalists across the country work as freelance. It's very hard for them to make a living and they don't have the time to care much about the technology. In our country, only 2/3 of the population has access to the Internet.

Even for small news rooms, it's very hard to have technical people in their staff like we have in our organization. If I change job tomorrow, I'll know how to use all these tools but I'll go back to working on Windows with them.

T: How does the communication between the different news rooms work?

R: We work as an assembly. I'm responsible for checking the platform every week. First, I enter GlobaLeaks using Tails. Then, I send a brief on Signal about what could be investigated. We sometimes have in-person meetings or use other communication channels.

T: So you check the platform once a week. How does it go?

R: I open Tails. I hate it!

Once a week, I put my other investigations aside and check the platform religiously. We have a dedicated computer that we only use for this, to lower the security risk.

I start Tails from a pendrive, start a session, enter in the archive through Tor, and export all the new information. The new files are marked as such on the platform; I download them to the persistent memory and archive them.

There's one other news room that uses Tails but none of the other ones. The complexity that it implies makes it impractical for them. It's a heavy system.

Some of the downloads are 3 times the size of the pendrive for example. Sometimes we receive videos that are 1 hour long. Sometimes I even have to leave the computer running after office hours to download everything. Then I have to stay in the office because I cannot resume the process.

T: Could it be a problem of GlobaLeaks if you cannot resume the process?

R: If I pause the process, I risk corrupting the files so I need to have a full day ahead. Once I downloaded the files, I also have to clean the metadata in order to clean any identifying information before moving them out of this computer.

Security costs time and training but it's very important to take good care of the files. It's not great but it's how it is and I'm not sure how we could improve things as of now. It takes me a whole day but then I'm sure that the information is safe.

T: You also talked about decrypting the files, which of downloading and decrypting takes more time?

Downloading is super slow. It can take 10 minutes to download a photo of 8 MB. We tried using a USB 3.1 but the computer doesn't support that. Internet is usually fast here. It takes a lot of time to connect to Tor. It has a problem with the clock. It takes 10 minutes before you can do anything.

Our hypothesis is that the computer recommended by GlobaLeaks is bad.

My life is called "patience".

T: Let's do some tests!

The USB is Kingston. It takes 3:30 minutes to get to Tails Greeter, 5 seconds to unlock the Persistence, 50 to open the desktop, 7 to connect to the Wi-Fi, 30 to connect to Tor, more than 1 minute to open Tor Browser. It seems like it's a problem with the computer indeed.

T: Why don't you use Tails to communicate with the other news rooms?

R: We use communication channels that existed before. In-person meetings are unquestionable. We also use Ubuntu and encrypted emails. After cleaning the metadata, the leaker is not at risk anymore and we use more usual and efficient tools to communicate.

T: What happens when you run out of space?

R: We have backups hidden somewhere. We install Tails on another pendrive.

T: Who's doing these maintenance operations on the Tails pendrive?

R: I send an email to the technical staff that deals with all the technicalities. I couldn't do it myself. I don't have the skills. Maybe I could learn; that would be ideal. I start to understand some of the processes but it's still too complicated for me.

T: What are the things that you could do on your own and the things that make you call the technical staff?

More than anything, they are upgrades constantly. Sometimes it takes us a whole day to do an upgrade and then there's another one the week after. I could do some parts of it but not everything.

Each time there's an upgrade we have to do a backup, I'm not sure if that's for security or for technical reasons. GlobaLeaks also have expiring GPG keys and we have to make sure that the GPG keys match or otherwise I could loose files.

T: What would you like to change in Tails if you could?

R: I find the menu system cumbersome. I lack something more intuitive like the application bar in Ubuntu, like in Apple. It's complicated to access the right application with the touchpad as it sometimes jumps from one menu to the other. Sometimes I use a mouse because it's more comfortable.

T: I open the Activities overview. Have you seen this screen before?

R: No. It's like a multitask screen. But it's an application that will disappear so I don't think that's is a good solution. It's still 1 extra click.

T: What else takes do you think could be simpler?

R: Choosing the network. I don't like it in Ubuntu either. You need 5 clicks to choose a Wi-Fi network. In macOS you get the list of networks straight away and you're done with 2 clicks instead of 5. The less clicks, the better.

T: What applications do you use in Tails?

R: I like KeePass a lot. I didn't know it before working here but now I even have it on my Macs. It became irreplaceable.

T: I open the System Monitor to check the network speed.

R: This is very useful! At least you know whether it's stuck or not.

T: We downloaded 30 MB in 1:30 min. I think that your problem is with the computer, not the network.

R: Maybe I'm so pissed off that I always blame the computer.

T: We have a help desk with someone who speaks Spanish.

R: It would be useful to have their contact.