President Trump has been ignoring White House protocols meant to keep his phones secure, according to a report this evening in Politico. The story says that Trump carries at least two iPhones, one for calls and one for browsing Twitter and reading news. These are supposed to have features like the camera disabled and be inspected on a regular basis; but according the report, that hasn’t been the case.
The phone used for calls reportedly still has its camera and microphone installed, which are obvious hacking targets that could reveal a great deal of intelligence to adversaries. In the past, President Obama made it sound as though his phones had both the camera and microphone taken out to remove this risk. Trump’s phones do, at least, have their GPS disabled, according to the report.
It’s not clear if the camera and mic are still present on the phone the president uses for Twitter. But the report does still bring up security concerns: aids would like Trump to swap the phone out monthly to ensure it stays secure, but an anonymous official said that he’s refused to do so because it’s “too inconvenient.” Another anonymous source seemed to confirm this, saying that the phone doesn’t need regular swap outs, because of security features enabled on the phone and Twitter account. It’s reportedly been five months since the phone was last checked.
The report says it’s unclear how often Trump’s call-making phone is swapped out, but one of the anonymous officials implied it was done on a regular basis. Trump’s phone number apparently changes on occasion, which seems to imply that the phone is swapped out now and then, or that he at least uses multiple phones. Obama reportedly handed his phone in for inspection every 30 days so that it could be examined for suspicious activity and intrusions.
Details in the report are obviously troubling from a security perspective, as there’s no phone that can’t be hacked. And if hackers have a way to remotely trigger a microphone, the president’s phone is possibly the most valuable target they could use it on. Given that Trump reads Twitter, it’s not unthinkable that hackers might try to get him to tap on a malicious link.
At the same time, it’s not clear how definitive this account is of Trump’s personal security practices. The entire thing appears to be sourced to two anonymous officials, and it doesn’t even seem to be certain of how many phones the president has. At one point, it says the president uses “at least” two phones, suggesting their could be more. And while one of the sources seems to be the one worried about his security practices, the other source seems to be tacitly confirming the details while also pushing back against the implication that they’re problematic.
Obviously we’ve known for some time that Trump has an iPhone that he uses Twitter on; his tweets are all tagged as coming from Twitter for iPhone. What hasn’t been clear are the security practices around that phone. And if this report is accurate, it suggests they aren’t nearly as strict as they should be. Even putting aside the ability to listen in on the president — gaining the ability to send even a single tweet from Trump’s account could create chaos before the situation is cleared up.
I could also go into the whole thing where Trump endlessly criticized Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016 campaign (...and as recently as, oh, yesterday) for her allegedly inappropriate use of technology, despite the fact that he is now, it seems, not following security protocols. But I don’t know that the inconsistency between Trump’s language and actions will really surprise anyone.