Content, Americas

Report: Chinese, Russians Snooping Into Trump’s iPhone in Lobbying, Espionage Campaign

President Trump has refused to stop using his personal iPhone despite repeated warnings from U.S. intelligence that the device is not secure, The New York Times reported.

Even more alarming is word that China and Russia are listening in on the President’s conversations to gauge how best to influence policy decisions in their favor, particularly in learning more about how he thinks and what gets his attention, according to American officials.

Operatives from both countries are said to be intercepting communications between foreign officials, the report said. Apparently, the Chinese have compiled a list of people they believe can be leveraged to influence the President, ultimately hoping to tone down the trade war with the U.S. According to the Times, two on the list are Stephen Schwarzman, the Blackstone Group chief executive, and Steve Wynn, the real estate business tycoon.

The Times called the Chinese strategy a “marriage of lobbying and espionage.” The Chinese hope that through the President’s friends possibly serving as intermediaries they can establish a back channel conversation of sorts, the report said.

Fittingly, the news drew the attention of influential cybersecurity experts, as well it should. According to Theresa Payton, the former former White House CIO and CEO of cybersecurity firm Fortalice Solutions, “anyone working in the White House has to be concerned by this story.

“If true, this may be the largest, most significant breach of White House communications in history. America's most sophisticated peer competitor now has a direct line into the President's confidential thinking and conversations,” she said in an email.

Trump’s security counselors reportedly are concerned in general with the President’s offhanded approach to electronic security. However, in a tweet, Trump denied having a cavalier approach to securing his mobile phone and claimed that he only used government landlines and “one seldom used government cell phone.” He did not claim there were other factual errors in the report, the Times said. White House officials said they can only hope Trump doesn’t discuss classified information on calls in which he uses his mobile phone. Although he has two state-issued iPhones with limited capabilities baked in by the National Security Agency, he reportedly has also kept his personal iPhone to store his contacts. That phone, like any mobile phone, is anything but secure and easily hacked.

Other foreign nation leaders, namely President Xi Jinping of China and Russian president Vladimir Putin, refrain from using cellphones, the Times said. Former U.S. president Obama used what he once called a “play phone” from which he could neither make calls nor send email other than to a select group of recipients.

Questions on Trump’s iPhone security practices follow an investigation in June that found sophisticated cell phone surveillance devices had been planted near the White House and other important installations in Washington last year. Officials speculated that the devices may have belonged to a foreign adversary.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.