The system is based on a design by internet activist and former hacker Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in January while facing a possible prison sentence for downloading academic journals from JSTOR through the computer network at MIT.
“The underlying code, given the name DeadDrop, will be open-source, and we are very glad to be the first to bring it out into the world, fully implemented," wrote senior editor Amy Davidson.
While the internet has made it easier for sources to share information, "it’s also become easier to trace the senders, even when they don’t want to be found," Davidson wrote. "Strongbox addresses that; as it’s set up, even we won’t be able to figure out where files sent to us come from. If anyone asks us, we won’t be able to tell them."
A source would access the Tor network, which anonymizes users. Strongbox users then upload their files, which are encrypted and transmitted to a Condé Nast server separate from the rest of the company's infrastructure.
Next, New Yorker editors can check Strongbox using a laptop on a Virtual Private Network (VPN). They can download a file to a thumb drive and load it on a laptop not connected to the internet, booted from a CD and erased every time it's turned on. A second thumb drive holds the keys to decrypt the files.
The Strongbox release comes just days after the Department of Justice secretly seized two months of records for over twenty Associated Press office and reporter phone lines. The move has been criticized from all corners, but can still deter potential sources.
Because Strongbox is open source, other media outlets or organizations are free to take it, modify it and use it for their own purposes.