Despite being in the job for several weeks, new US President Donald Trump still may not be using the secure phone given to him as part of the job.
In fact, Trump could still be using an old-fashioned phone, a prospect which is causing consternation among the ranks of the security establishment as well the political leadership.
Trump had allegedly been using an Android smartphone before being elected president, and he is reported to be continuing to use it after entering the White House.
But the phone he was using did not have the high levels of security and encryption that the secret service requires, and it is “utterly shocking” that he is using it, according to critics.
The concern that Trump’s unsecure phone could be hacked – and important state secrets acquired through its monitoring – has reached a point where critics have raised questions about it.
Two senators have sent a letter to the US Department of Defense asking for clarification about exactly what type of phone Trump uses and whether it is his old, unsecured Android phone.
It is thought that Trump aides may use the phone to tweet to his Twitter account, and he also probably takes it to important meetings, such as the one he had recently with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“While it is important for the President to have the ability to communicate electronically, it is equally important that he does so in a manner that is secure and that ensures the preservation of presidential records,” Democratic senators Tom Carper and Claire McCaskill wrote in the letter to the DoD.
They pointed out that hackers could eavesdrop on secret meetings by remotely turning on “audio recording and camera features, as well as engaging surveillance tools that allow location and other information tracking features”.
Trump’s continuing use of his “old, unsecured Android phone” is against the advice of some of his aides, according to a report in the New York Times.
The unsecured phones could provide opportunities to spy on meetings such as the one he had with Japanese Prime Minister Abe a few days ago, where the two were briefed on North Korea’s recent missile test.
The meeting was relatively open and people were pointing their phones at a scene where sensitive documents were said to be in full view.
“It is, by any standards, utterly shocking,” says Juliette Kayyem, a national security analyst who served as President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.
One of the journalists who was there at the Trump-Abe meeting tweeted that “we used to put our phones in fridges to talk about Snowden docs at The Intercept. These … are POINTING THEIR PHONES at class[ified] info”.
Many tech experts say it is already extremely difficult if not virtually impossible to protect the internet of things, and meetings like this one where everything is on display do not make it any easier.
In a speech at last year’s IP Expo, Jean Turgeon, chief technologist at Avaya, said: “In the past, the perimeter was very well defined. Therefore, you looked at what was going on at the entry point from the public Internet to your own enterprise, and IT, for the most part, had a lot of control over the devices that were entering their network.”
But since those days, when the world was much more simple, things have gone crazy, said Turgeon. “Today, with IoT, BYOD, BYOX, we’ve lost control over what enters the network; sensors technology, wearables, multi-purpose devices, are all coming into the enterprise.”