Donald Trump is a big fan of the phones in the White House. “These are the most beautiful phones I’ve ever used in my life,” he told the New York Times in an interview this week. It’s not their aesthetics he’s drawn to, but the security built into the system that ensures no one is tapping his calls.
Unfortunately the president’s love for security doesn’t seem to extend to his smartphone, revealed in the same interview to be an “old, unsecured Android phone”, which he carries around the White House “to the protests of some of his aides”. This contradicts previous reports suggesting Trump traded his handset for a “secure, encrypted device approved by the Secret Service”.
Android Central analyzed images of Trump using his phone and suggested he likely owns a Samsung Galaxy S3 [model pictured above], first released in 2012 -- a phone so old that it would no longer receive any new security updates or major software releases.
If Trump is still using this device, it represents a major security threat.
Perhaps the greatest risk, as highlighted by security expert Bruce Schneier, is possibility that the phone could be hacked and turned into an eavesdropping device, listening in on classified conversations.
“That Android has a microphone, which means it can be turned into a room bug without anyone’s knowledge. That’s my real fear,” said Schneier.
In order to turn Trump’s phone into a bug, a malicious hacker could use a phishing attack by sending a link or attachment from a seemingly trusted source -- in an email or even a tweet. If Trump were to click on the link or attachment, his phone could become infected with malware that could record what he types, spy on the network the phone is connected to, track his location and start listening to his conversations via the microphone.
“If I was a nation-state actor I would send an inflammatory message on Twitter that contained a link to a page he might click on, and visiting that page would open some sort of exploit that took over the phone and installed the listening software that allowed me to control it,” said Mike Murray, vice-president of security research at mobile security company Lookout. “That’s how nation-state actors have worked in the past.
“Knowing where the US president is at any moment is a pretty significant thing,” he added.
President Obama used a Blackberry when he first came to office, which was later replaced by a smartphone -- the make of which he didn’t reveal. Both devices were completely locked down by the Secret Service, with any apps that could pose a security risk removed.
This made for a pretty dumb smartphone.
In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Obama said that when he was given the device he was told “this is a great phone, state of the art, but it doesn’t take pictures, you can’t text, the phone doesn’t work, you can’t play your music on it.
“So basically, it’s like -- does your three-year-old have one of those play phones?”
It’s not just Trump’s device that poses a security risk. Earlier this week, a hacker exposed potential vulnerabilities in the official Twitter accounts used by the president (@POTUS), vice-president (@VP) and first lady (@FLOTUS).
The hacker, known by his online name WauchulaGhost, said on Twitter that these accounts were more vulnerable because they had not enabled a security setting that requires the user to provide a phone number of email address to reset the password.
Hey @POTUS, On a serious note. Lets fix your Security settings. Should I email you? -- WauchulaGhost (@WauchulaGhost) January 21, 2017
And until Thursday afternoon, the @POTUS Twitter account, which was turned over to Trump’s team last week, was registered to a private Gmail account. The account registration, which appeared to belong to Dan Scavino, Trump’s head of social media, was changed on Thursday after several journalists and online users flagged it online. It’s now attached to a White House email.
The incident renewed a discussion about concerns about the security of the president’s Twitter account, which he uses as a primary tool of communication.
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly blasted his opponent for using a private email server while serving as secretary of state. To rile his supporters during the campaign, Trump would raise the email controversy and the crowd would chant in return: “Lock her up!”
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