Diplomats resorting to typewriters over 'fears of spying'

‘Guardian’ journalist Luke Harding says emails can no longer be regarded as private

Cyberspying has become so all-pervasive that diplomats are resorting to using typewriters to send important messages, a conference has been told.

The Guardian journalist Luke Harding warned that email should no longer be regarded as a private medium. He compared the return to pen and paper as "like disappearing into a wormhole" back to the 1980s.

He said he now meets contacts on park benches in London and dispenses with phones before meetings.

Harding, who said Indian diplomats had resorted to typewriters because of the fears that they were being spied on, was speaking at a conference organised for National Cybercrime Awareness Day at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin.


Harding outlined some of the ways in which he guards against cybercrime, given the evidence that the National Security Council (NSC) in the US has been spying on individuals for years .

He places a sticking plaster over the webcam on his computer because a programme called Optic Nerve can be turned on by spy agencies without the laptop owner knowing it.

Spy networks

Similarly, the iPhone is regarded by the NSC as the “greatest spy device ever invented”, he told the conference, and those that carry them around are “zombies” to the spy networks.

Harding has worked on stories from three of the largest leaks in cyber history – Wikileaks, the Edward Snowden national security breaches and the Panama Papers.

He was the Guardian's correspondent in Moscow for four years from 2007 to 2011, but was refused re-entry to Russia and deported back to London.

He told the conference he had been subjected to a "constant cycle of harassment" by the Russian authorities, his apartment had been broken into and bugged and his phone cut off. He later wrote a book about Russia called Mafia State. "It was clear to me that Russian surveillance was overt and aggressive," he said.

Harding suggested the recent leaks from the Democratic National Committee were the work of Russian agents, because Russian president Vladimir Putin clearly wants Donald Trump to win.

Speaking at the same conference, Det Supt Michael Gubbins, head of the computer crime investigations unit at the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, said people are not vigilant about the amount of details they are putting online.

“Attacks are happening at an alarming rate as was seen at the weekend – as soon as one hack has happened, you are not safe from another attack,” he said. “In fact, you are more likely to be attacked again.”

At the conference, the Minister of State at the Department of An Taoiseach, Regina Doherty, said the Government had one Bill before the Oireachtas and was in the process of drafting a second Bill in the area of cybercrime.

“The potential for criminal activity in cyberspace also spreads its tentacles into other areas of criminal law. We have to react to this and we are also updating our laws in other discrete areas of the criminal law to deal with such cyber-related criminal activity.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times