You may think the most powerful man in the world would have access to whatever device he likes, but Joe Biden might be sorely disappointed when it comes to consumer technology.
“The odds are zero, that [Russia] aren’t targeting world leaders,” Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Bruce Schneier says. It clears that electronic devices around the US president are perhaps the most commons hacking targets in the world.
This wasn’t such a major issue back in the 2000s – computers and non-smart cell phones were the only personal devices that could be hacked.
But in 2009, when Barack Obama took office, it all changed. He was so attached to his Blackberry that he fought for weeks with security advisors to keep it – a battle he finally won, according to an official, “through a compromise that allows him to stay in touch with senior staff and a small group of personal friends”
And the number of tech devices a president may choose to use has steadily increased since then – giving sleepless nights to security advisers.
The Obamapad and Biden’s Peloton
The ObamaPad, a “hardened”, more secure iPad was created by national-security advisers for Barack Obama and his staff in 2010, according to a former adviser.
“In the Obama administration, for senior staff, it was common to have an iPad that had… certain modifications to it,” says Ari Schwartz, a National Security Council cyber-security official during the Obama administration.
“There’s no wi-fi,” Mr. Schwartz says. And we actually had a little bit of a discussion at one point about adding wi-fi. It was more of a discussion like, ‘Why can’t we have wi-fi in the White House?’
“And the feeling was, ‘Well, then you’re opening up security lapses.'”
The Obamas’ residence eventually installed wi-fi. But it remained patchy at best, according to the family.
New US president Joe Biden was photographed wearing an Apple Watch and is reportedly the owner of a Peloton exercise bike with an Internet-connected computer screen, camera, and microphone.
If the iPad gave tech advisers a few sleepless nights back in the day, the internet of things, today, represents a recurring nightmare.
“Everything is becoming a computer,” Mr Schneier says.
“And those computers are vulnerable.
“Whether it’s your Peloton bike or your phone, your refrigerator, your thermostat, toys, your car – these are all vulnerable to hacking.”
And for President Biden, who seems to like his gadgets, that is a problem.
Can these devices may be secured ?
“You can do things like modifying the hardware, like ripping the camera out, that’s something that the NSA [National Security Agency] can do,” Mr. Schneier says.
Mr Schwartz says, software can be hardest to protect.
“The software side, it’s a lot harder to maintain good security around, because everything is updated from afar now,” he says.
“You might be totally secure right now, the day that you buy the product.
“But then a year from now, someone could come in and install malware into it and destroy the security that you had originally.”
And Mr Schneier shares these concerns.
“Everything is a potential vulnerability… Apple News, everything, because it’s all connected because anything can affect any other thing,” he says.
“That’s why this is so complicated.
“That’s why ditching the device is often the best security advice, even if it’s not practical.”
Herbert Lin, of the University of Stanford, says: “It’s very rare that you find a device that can’t be hacked.
“Most devices that can’t be hacked are pretty useless because they can’t communicate.”
Taking into account last year’s incident, U.S. government networks were hacked by suspected Russian hackers as news broke. The massive Solar Winds hack reportedly affected the treasury and commerce departments and Homeland Security. Even worse, once the hackers were in, they lay undetected for months.
President Biden may be the most powerful person in the most powerful country in the world. But he may also fight with his hands to keep the gadgets many others take for granted.