August was the month that I finished coursework for my Masters degree in Mass Communication, the month I spent a week at DEF CON playing Open CTF and connecting with friends, new and old, and the month my husband and I escaped to Minnesota to see family and go on a bit of a vacation. August also saw the culmination of two projects I’d put a considerable amount of time into, as well as a very important post I put together quite quickly. It’s also the month I’ve been building up business again after a year of working overtime—so if you are in need of an investigative tech reporter, please get in touch.
The Best VPN Service (Wirecutter)
I spent months researching and testing VPNs, and these are the results. I was hesitant to take on this project after penning a post on how you couldn’t meaningfully rank VPNs back in 2016, but couldn’t pass the opportunity to write for one of my favorite sites. Luckily, I had a handful of technical experts who answered countless questions as I worked through what data I could find in an incredibly opaque industry. In particular, Dan Guido, cofounder and CEO of Trail of Bits, spent two hours talking me through the ins and outs of security audits and their limitations, security challenges I was unaware of, and other considerations that hadn’t crossed my mind. And, of course, my editors and the entire team at Wirecutter were also amazing. Sarah Jeong linked to this piece in The New York Times’ Privacy Project newsletter, which was pretty cool.
This piece, written in collaboration with Harrison Mantas and Kailey Broussard, is the culmination of 10 weeks of reporting on how FEMA still struggles with coordination and communication during disasters, even after years of reforms and reorganizations. It was done for News21, as part of a larger project on disaster recovery called State of Emergency. This piece was picked up by NonDoc in Oklahoma, which was neat since my fellowship (and Harrison’s!) was funded by the Oklahoma-based Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
The company is fighting back against rumors that it would scan messages on users’ phones prior to encryption… and I delved into some of the ways we could tell if this wasn’t the case. For this piece, I interviewed a WhatsApp spokesperson and Steve Weis, a fellow at the Aspen Tech Policy Hub and former software engineer at Facebook.
It’s been a weird month since I was on vacation for half of it and business is just revving up again now that I’m done with school, and I’m still working on some long-term projects that may or may not be up in September. At the very least, you can look forward to a profile of a marine toxicologist this month. And in October, Mr. Robot is returning…