Posted 10 Dez. 2019

Cyber security experts explain why the phone lines used by Donald Trump are 'so easy to hack'

Laurent Halimi blog profile image

By Laurent Halimi

Donald Trump certainly attacked Hillary Clinton for using an unsecured private messaging server in her 2016 campaign. But, according to a recent Washington Post survey, the US president routinely make phone calls using unsafe devices. Appeals from the investigation into Trump's impeachment show that he and his top advisors regularly used unencrypted  telephones to discuss White House affairs. Several unidentified Trump adminstration officials confirmed the incident to the investigated media.

Government officials usually use encrypted telephone services to protect their calls or SMS from possible hacker interception. To contextualize this information, Business Insider US spoke to cyber security experts about the risks of using unsecured phones. For example Alex Heid, the director of new technologies at Security Scorecard, revealed that unencrypted telephone services were particularly easy to hack.

Also read — Fault found in Tchap, the government's encrypted messaging app, just hours after it was launched

"In some cases, it's as easy as entering a cellphone tower, plugging in a laptop and downloading everything," said Alex Heid. "It's usually so easy to hack that it's scary." Kiersten Todt, general manager of the Cyber Readiness Institute, said that access to unsafe telephone activities is within the reach of sophisticated hackers. "With enough time and focus, we know that this is certainly feasible for many malevolent actors," said the former cyber security adviser for the Obama administration.

This is how hackers can access unsafe phone activities and how encryption can protect them, experts say.

With the advent of the Internet, phone encryption became much cheaper. Most encrypted telephone lines now use a software called 'voice over internet protocol' to protect themselves against espionage.



Nam Y. Huh/AP

However, most of the standard telephone services, including calls and SMS, are "basically open access," according to Alex Heid, "It's an unencrypted data stream that's airlifted."


Scott Morgan/Reuters

"Hackers constantly hack telecom operators," says Alex Heid.


Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

There is now a wide range of smartphone applications that provide encrypted calls and messaging services such as Signal, Wickr and WhatsApp. According to the Washington Post, the latter app is used from time to time by White House officials.



People choose to use unsecured telephone services primarily for convenience. "There is always a compromise between encryption and ease of use," Alex Heid explained.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

There have been several cases of targeted telephone hacking in the past year. One tactic, known as 'SIM Swapping' (or SIM card exchange), is to fraudulently convince a mobile operator to transfer control of a phone number to a pirate device.

Steve Kovach, Business Insider

'Mobile security is something the government still has a hard time prioritizing', says Kiersten Todt. 'But given the use of smartphones by companies and governments, we need to find a solution.'
AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin

AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin