Suspected hackers may have compromised the personal cell phone of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, the White House has revealed.
The breach of John Kelly’s personal cell phone was discovered by the White House’ IT staff after he turned the phone in for repairs.
The revelation has raised concerns, even within the White House, that malicious hackers or state-backed ones may have been able to eavesdrop on Kelly’s cell phone usage and may have listened in to his conversations and read his emails, documents, and texts.
Three U.S. government officials told Politico that Kelly’s cell phone may have been hacked as far back as in December, a month before he was appointed the secretary of Homeland Security. When he turned the phone in to the White House’ IT department in the summer, Kelly complained that the phone had not been working properly for ‘months’.
However, according to a White House spokesman, Kelly did not use his personal cell phone for official communications when he was inside the White House. However, it is not clear how much data was accessed, exactly when the hack took place and if the hackers have been able to breach cell phones used by other White House staffers.
After Kelly turned in his personal cell phone, he was issued a new phone to conduct official communications and is no longer using any other personal devices. As a precaution, the White House has warned other staff at the West Wing not to use any personal devices for official communications and has also set up additional storage lockers for personal devices.
The breach of John Kelly’s cell phone isn’t the first time that the White House is in the news for suffering security incidents. Back in August, Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert fell for a phishing email which was sent to him by an ethical British hacker as a test.
The hacker sent a pretty convincing email to Bossert’s White House email account, asking him to join a veterans’ party towards the end of August. Not only did Bossert reply to the email, but also shared his personal email address for future exchanges. Incidentally, Bossert also looked after cyber security matters at the White House at that time.
While the fact that a White House official can so easily be fooled is hilarious for some, it is also a sobering fact considering that this is the very technique that cyber criminals use to obtain sensitive information from government officials.