A week is a long time in politics, as the saying goes. So it seems like a lifetime ago that I was writing about candidates Trump and Clinton’s need to for a reliable secure, encrypted means of communication. In fact it was fully five months ago, and while so many things have changed in that period, that assertion is now more true than ever.
The last few weeks have brought a deluge of revelations across the press concerning leaks coming from the White House. A transcript of President Trump’s call with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was obtained by news organizations Aristegui Noticias and Associated Press. There was further attention as The Washington Post published details of a call between President Trump and the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
This was followed a week later by yet further leaks, as Reuters reported on details of Trump’s first call as President with the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Trump has described the leaks as “un-American.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer reported “We're looking into the situation, yes, and it's very concerning,” stressing that the leaking of this information was “clearly a breach of a lot of protocols and laws.” Spicer went on to add that “the idea that you can’t have a conversation without that information getting out is concerning.”
Against this backdrop, Democrat Senators Tom Carper and Claire McCaskill have written to the Secretary of Defense asking if Trump is using an encrypted smartphone in office, or an unsecured personal device. The letter states that "the national security risks of compromising a smartphone used by a senior government official, such as the President of the United States, are considerable."
The senators go on to assert that "While it is important for the President to have the ability to communicate electronically, it is equally important that he does so in a manner that is secure and that ensures the preservation of presidential records."
Whether you’re a businessman talking to clients, or the leader of the free world discussing geopolitical issues with your overseas counterparts, the need and right to be able to protect your communications is key. And once you’ve decided to make that step, it’s crucial to be sure that you pick the correct solution. There are three principle criteria to be considered.
Security: Not all encryption is created equal – the market is littered with consumer voice and messaging apps that present themselves as secure, but even a cursory Google will undermine these claims. If it doesn’t offer military-grade encryption it simply isn’t secure.
Functionality: Does the platform offer you all the services you need? Voice and messaging are a given, but if it doesn’t offer secure conference calling or document sharing that could present a significant vulnerability. Similarly, it may be that you require the platform to be run on your own servers – if this is not an option, the platform will never sit entirely within your security wall.
Reputation: It’s crucial to look into the platform’s background – for instance WhatsApp is owned by Facebook. For the consumer this may not be an issue, but would your team or your clients be comfortable trusting sensitive information to the tech giant? Confidence in the provider is a cornerstone to ensuring adoption of the platform.
When weighing up your options, it always worth listening to the experts: “Organizations with higher-than-average security requirements and/or regulatory requirements (healthcare, finance, government and energy) should adopt mobile voice and text protection. Certain companies look for a best-effort secure messaging option among a number of freeware alternatives.”
“Often, the sole presence of an encryption algorithm is not enough to ensure proper enterprise-level security, and we do not recommend relying on such solutions for the use cases described in this note. The way ciphering is implemented, the performance and customer support delivered are all fundamental differentiators.” Market Guide for Mobile Voice and Texting Protection, Gartner, 22 July 2015.
So yes, against this political backdrop, and with the myriad not fit-for-purpose options on the market, my statement way back in September does seem more accurate than ever – Trump does deserve better. And so do you.
Harvey Boulter, Chairman, Communication Security Group