Cybersecurity expert Runa Sandvik discovered the world of computers at 15 in 2002 and fell deep into Oslo’s hacker community. Today, she advises journalists and other people who are vulnerable to cyberattacks — like activists and lawyers — on how to keep their data safe from hackers, especially those backed by authoritarian regimes. For CJR, Maddy Crowell gives us a glimpse into Sandvik’s fascinating work, and how she’s become one of the world’s top information security experts.

When I asked Sandvik what would be required to make yourself entirely safe from cyber threats, she replied: you wouldn’t be online at all, and you would have to live in the forest. I often found her prudence perplexing. I wondered if there were things she was hiding from me—an awareness of risks that only someone with her expertise could appreciate. Or if, in her affable bluntness, she simply wanted to convey that most of us are blind to the surveillance dystopia in which we live.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.