Runa Sandvik: Cybersecurity Expert and Journalistic Ally
The news media is no stranger to trouble. From being a frequent target of fiery verbal attacks by politicians to dealing with budget crises brought on by our ever-evolving, digitally centered world, the medium continuously dodges the slew of obstacles that comes its way. Luckily though, the news world will always have one powerful figure on its side — Runa Sandvik.
Sandvik, a Norwegian hacker and cyber expert, most notably served as the head of Information Security at the New York Times from 2016 to 20193, before being laid off as her position was controversially eliminated4.
During her tenure with The Times, Sandvik was responsible for instituting new high-tech security measures, keeping the publication’s website protected, and preventing cyber attacks on journalists, a crime that is becoming increasingly prevalent.
“I think that we are seeing not necessarily new types of attacks, but a type of persistence and an escalation that we haven’t seen before,” said Sandvik about cyber threats to journalists in 20181.
Through her impressive background and genius problem-solving skills, Sandvik has become a force to be reckoned with not only among news publications, but in the world of information security as a whole. Her sudden release from The Times was surprising and upsetting for Sandvik, but she was able to bounce back stronger than ever. According to her LinkedIn profile, she now holds the position of Senior Advisor at Norwegian Armed Forces Cyber Defence, as well as being a board member for the Norwegian Online News3.
Sandvik has a long history of interest in computers — her fascination began in her youth, when she got her first PC at age 15. She enjoyed tinkering with the internal mechanisms and figuring out how to manipulate the machine to do things it wasn’t necessarily intended to do1.
“The interest for me at that point, early on, was just to soak up as much info as I could, just learn how things work, learn how things fall apart,” she recalled1.
She is credited for implementing various security improvements at The New York Times, such as two-factor authentication for staffers logging into the site, safer communication methods, advanced security for subscribers, and much more1. And beyond just protecting the employees of the paper, Sandvik also put measures in place to protect one of the most crucial elements of news story production – the sources.
“That contract – protecting the source – has become a lot more of a technical challenge. It is no longer good enough for a journalist to say ‘I will protect my source’. That journalist will need to understand the challenges that technology introduces here,” Sandvik explained2.
In order to provide the highest level of protection and integrity possible, she established a highly secure confidential tip line on The Times’ website where sources can submit information without the fear of it getting into the wrong hands1.
Prior to lending her skills to The Times, Sandvik was a research contributor for the widely known cybersecurity tool Tor. She began her work on the Tor Project during a research internship at Google in 2009, and soon became an authoritative voice in the further development of the platform2. Originally created for use within the US military to protect intelligence computing, Tor was later adopted by lawyers, activists, students, and of course, journalists2.
Tor prevents a user’s identity from being tracked while online, allowing people to research, browse, and share potentially private information without worrying about censorship or unwanted attention from authorities. This in turn lets those such as investigative journalists act as whistleblowers and expose corruption, without the fear of being condemned themselves.
“Over the years I got the chance to work with activists, to train journalists and I got the opportunity to see how Tor improves people’s lives and the work that brave people are doing,” Sandvik said2.
Currently, along with her role at the Norwegian Armed Forces Cyber Defence, Sandvik remains a respected voice in the cybersecurity world, posting regular commentary on Twitter (where she has over 50 thousand followers)4 and contributing to local and international discussions on cyber technology.
Delkic, M. (2018, July 24). This Former Hacker Now Helps The Times Stay Safe Online. The New York Times. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/24/insider/meet-runa-sandvik-security.html
Kennedy, J. (2015, April 09). The interview: Runa Sandvik, the Tor project and Forbes writer. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.siliconrepublic.com/enterprise/the-interview-runa-sandvik-the-tor-project-and-forbes-writer
Runa Sandvik . (n.d.). Home [LinkedIn page]. LinkedIn. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.linkedin.com/in/runasand/
Sandvik, R. [@runasand] (n.d.) [Twitter profile.] Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://twitter.com/runasand