WorkiLeaks: How to Be a Workplace Leaker Without Getting Caught

Photo: loop_oh

On Tuesday, Gawker announced gleefully that it had placed a mole inside Fox News Channel — an anonymous Fox employee who was feeding the news organization’s inner secrets to the website via dispatches in a weekly new column.

The mole’s bitterness toward his employer knew no bounds, as he dished the dirt on Fox’s toilets (a new kind of leak, for sure) and slipped Gawker never-before-seen inane video footage of Mitt Romney and Sean Hannity bantering about horse riding prior to the taping of an interview for the “Hannity Vegas Forum” in February. (What, you thought an inside mole at a news station would leak something actually newsworthy?)

The mole’s identity wasn’t hidden for long. A day later, Fox News told Mediaite that it had unmasked the leaker and was consulting with lawyers about legal options against the rogue employee. The same day, Fox outed and ousted the mole, who later identified himself in a Gawker post as Joe Muto, an associate producer for The O’Reilly Factor.

Like the Craigslist killer before him, it was the digital trail that gave Joe away.

“They knew that someone, using my computer login, had accessed the sources for two videos that ended up on Gawker over the past few weeks,” Muto writes after his unmasking. “They couldn’t prove it entirely, but I was pretty much the only suspect.”

In the interest of protecting future moles and whistleblowers, we’ve assembled a list of Dos and Don’ts for leaking safely:

  • Don’t use your work computer or work phone to communicate with the recipient of your leaks.
  • Give yourself a code name. It won’t help protect you, but it’ll make you feel cool.
  • Don’t e-mail documents you want to leak to your private account. Print them out or take a picture of the document displayed on your computer screen with your personal phone.
  • Don’t give away personal details that are identifying if you want to remain anonymous — like calling yourself the “only liberal working at Fox News.”
  • Be aware that the document you plan to leak could be seeded with information designed to catch a leaker. One parent company we know (which shall remain nameless) used to send slightly different versions of the same leakworthy document to different departments to hone in on the leaker once they were published.
  • Documents you find lying around at the printer or fax machine are far easier to leak anonymously than digital ones.
  • Don’t leak information from inside a media organization owned by Rupert Murdoch, or any other company that employs hackers. They have ways of hearing you talk.
  • Make sure the document you want to release has been shared widely enough so that the digital trail linking you to it won’t incriminate you the way that accessing the video busted Gawker’s leaker.
  • Handing over documents to a recipient in person is almost always better than e-mailing them.
  • Better yet, don’t give the recipient a document at all; read it over the phone. It’s easier to be a source of information, rather than a leaker of documents. Computers leave trails — always.
  • If you must communicate with the recipient electronically, use a throwaway e-mail account, preferably on a computer you don’t own. Don’t use your real name and details to register the account, and use an open Wi-Fi connection at a cafe to send your communication. Realize that some employers are so notoriously anti-leak that they will fire you for not letting them examine your personal e-mail accounts or devices.
  • Don’t tell anyone — except your priest, rabbi or imam — that you’re the source. Especially don’t confide your crime to a hacker you met online.
  • Don’t read or talk about the leaked story at work — UNLESS someone sends it to you.
  • Don’t look paranoid or guilty. No one knows what you did. Or probably no one knows.
  • Only leak to respected news outlets like, say, Wired. Getting fired for leaking to Gawker? That way lies only ridicule and shame, and perhaps an unpaid internship under the slave control of Nick Denton.

Additional writing by Kim Zetter. Hat tip to Bill Wasik for the idea and @BostonReview for the WorkiLeaks title.