The president of the United States is protected by a cavalcade of secret service agents at all times, uses a secure landline in the Oval Office and rides around in a limo that can survive a chemical attack. But it seems like Trump is skimping on security where it might matter most: his smartphone.
According to a report by The New York Times, Trump is still using an unsecured Android smartphone, rather than the kind of secure device President Barack Obama begrudgingly used after giving up his locked-down BlackBerry last year.
Why does it matter that Trump might be using an unsecured smartphone? Because gaining access to the president’s handset could give attackers a means to view anything he has saved on the device. Heck, hackers could enable the phone’s microphone without anyone ever knowing, giving them the ability to listen in on private conversations.
“Nearly all smartphones have location services as well as microphones,” explained security researcher and journalist Ashkan Soltani. “An attacker could use this device to track the president’s movements, even if it were not his primary phone, or hot-mic [remotely enable the phone’s microphone] to monitor his private conversations — another matter of national security.”
It’s also worth pointing out that Trump’s Twitter account, which he might access through his phone, has changed the direction of stocks in just 140 characters. If someone gained access to that account, they could send the stock market into free fall or cause a national panic.
“We live in a time when policy decisions and reactions happen in an instant,” Soltani said. “Were a foreign actor to hack his device, or otherwise get a hold of that account and tweet something at another nation state, that could inadvertently cause a diplomatic crisis or even a war.”
To be sure, it’s not clear that Trump is the person using this unsecured phone or if he has a staffer use it. It’s also unclear if the phone does anything beyond simply allow for Twitter access, or if it’s a fully functional phone.
Either way, the security of the president’s smartphone is incredibly important. When Obama traded in his BlackBerry, the smartphone he received from his security experts was essentially a tiny black brick.
Obama said his phone couldn’t do basic things like send text messages, take pictures or even play music. But as far as we know it was secure enough to prevent a hacker from attacking it.
Interestingly, as AndroidCentral points out, The New York Times’ report seems to contradict a previous Times article, which stated that Trump did in fact turn in his old Android phone for a secure device provided by the Secret Service.
We’ve reached out to the White House for comment and will update our piece when we receive a response.
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Email Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.