US President Donald Trump owns three iPhones, two of which are “secure” ones, and one third is a personal one, which isn’t any different from millions of iPhones across the globe. According to a new report on The New York Times, despite having two secure iPhones, whenever Trump makes or receives a phone call, his adversaries listen to his conversations. The report puts a spotlight on the devices Trump has, and the way he uses them.
When Trump took charge of the office in 2016, he had to give up his old and outdated Android-powered Samsung Galaxy smartphone, and was transitioned to Apple devices. This is because iPhones are historically been known as being secure compared to Android counterparts. Out of the three iPhones that Trump owns, one is his personal device, which he can use to store contacts of his family and friends. It is the same device he uses to tweet and access news on third-party apps. However, the other two being for official business purposes, they have been modified and locked down by the National Security Agency (NSA) to prevent eavesdropping.
“American spy agencies had learned that China and Russia were eavesdropping on the president’s cellphone calls from human sources inside foreign governments and intercepting communications between foreign officials,” the report said.
Now, even when in the White House, one cannot simply escape the insecure cell network that passes information between other networks, also known as Signaling System No. 7 (or just SS7). In recent years, it is this network that has made it easier for hackers to intercept text messages and phone calls. It also allows hackers to break the code and use the two-factor authentication to hack bank accounts and transfer funds.
These flaws in the SS7 network makes it easier for anyone to tap into calls as they are made. This includes Russia and China, and any knowledgeable attacker with the required means and resources can pull off a successful intercept. While Trump’s reliance on three iPhones looks a little awkward, it is still a big step up from what his predecessor, Obama got.
President Obama’s smartphone was more like a toddler phone. It was heavily modified so as to receive emails, but not to make phone calls. It didn’t even feature a camera nor did it included any microphone that would allow his adversaries to know what the president was working on. And to comply with Presidential Records Act, he wasn’t even allowed to send a text.
While Trump has surely been more lenient compared to Obama, he is still supposed to get new devices every month to endure that any persistent malware isn’t lurking within. But according to the report, this policy hasn’t been enforced closely because of the inconvenience of transferring the old data to a new phone every time around. Also, it does increase the risk of accidentally transferring malware, if any.
Yes, there are flaws in SS7, but even if the Russians or the Chinese aren’t listening to his conversations, they can still try their luck if they want to. What makes the matter worst is that Trump refuses to give up iPhones in favor of more secure hardware, the report states.