The New York Times report that China and Russia are eavesdropping on President Trump's cellphone calls is, in one sense, shocking. On the other hand, it's exactly what experts have warned about since before he took office.
Why it matters: Whether the risk is spilling state secrets or providing blackmail material, letting others listen in on the president's calls can't be a good idea.
Flashback: In January 2017, I co-wrote a story for Recode headlined "For the sake of national security, Donald Trump needs to trade in his cellphone."
- He eventually did switch from an Android to an iPhone, but continues to make calls and tweet from mobile devices, raising a number of serious security issues.
- There's the current issue of eavesdropping. As the NYT report notes, eavesdropping could happen if a device was compromised, but cellphone calls can also be intercepted because of flaws inherent in the cellular system.
- His phone could also be compromised in other ways, opening up the potential for location tracking, covert audio recording or other surveillance. The NYT piece notes that Trump isn't even regularly swapping out the device as intended.
Former White House CIO Theresa Payton tells Axios that it's tough to assess just how bad things are "without knowing what information was accessed, when, and how." But, Payton, who's now CEO of cybersecurity firm Fortalice Solutions, adds...
"What it could mean, in a worst-case scenario, is that China and Russia have had access to the president's most intimate and delicate conversations, and that they could be using that knowledge to exploit perceived weaknesses and gain an upper hand in trade negotiations and possibly even military operations."
"If true, this may be the largest, most significant breach of White House communications in history."
And then there are his tweets. Regardless of what device they are sent from, the president's penchant for tweeting personal attacks, changes in U.S. policy and communications to foreign leaders poses creates a huge risk if someone were ever able to gain access to his account: Followers couldn't easily distinguish between his impulsive messages and those of a hacker.
What they're saying:
- Sen. Mark Warner: "This is a big problem, if true. The intelligence community works hard to defend us against foreign espionage. The last thing we need is for the president to be jeopardizing national security through sheer carelessness."
- Lawfare's Susan Hennessey: "The president of the United States is placing our national security at risk for some minor personal convenience. And he doesn't seem to care one bit. This should be understood as a breach of his oath of office."
The bottom line: It's past time for the president to use a more secure means of communication.