Washington DC has a fake cell phone tower problem. It is an open secret that Foreign Intelligence Services are using a variety of means to capture signals intelligence (SIGINT) in DC. From Wired:
LAST WEEK, THE Department of Homeland Security confirmed for the first time that it is aware of unauthorized cell-site simulators, the surveillance tools often called stingrays or IMSI Catchers, in various parts of Washington DC.
While it’s not surprising that foreign intelligence groups or criminal actors would be cell-snooping in the nation’s capital, the DHS statement is the first US government acknowledgement that sensitive political communications, not to mention those of anyone in DC, are at risk of interception by devices that are currently unaccounted for. In spite of this step, though, observers find it unlikely that any group will move to defuse the threat in the foreseeable future.
From Politico (emphasis mine):
President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials – a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.
The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.
The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones – one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and pre-loaded with a handful of news sites – are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.
While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.
The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.
Trump’s call-capable cell phone has a camera and microphone, unlike the White House-issued cell phones used by Obama. Keeping those components creates a risk that hackers could use them to access the phone and monitor the president’s movements. The GPS location tracker, however – which can be used to track the president’s whereabouts – is disabled on Trump’s devices.
“It’s baffling that Trump isn’t taking baseline cybersecurity measures at a time when he is trying to negotiate his way out of a trade war with China, a country that is known for using cyber tactics to gain the upper hand in business negotiations,” said Samm Sacks, a China and technology expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Former government officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations expressed astonishment that any White House would issue the president a cell phone that posed a security threat.
I’m sure there’s no operations security issues involved here at all. It isn’t like the President is up at odd hours with a bunch of media personalities who give him advice and wind him up about what decisions to make after he tells them what’s going on. Err, um… Never mind.