By Ephraim Schwartz
December 09, 2008
The press has been all over President-Elect Barack Obama's addiction to
his BlackBerry and the possibility that he might have to give it up for
reasons of national security. But no one in the media seems to be asking
the most logical follow-up question: Is the cybertechnology that can
compromise the future chief executive's BlackBerry also a threat to
mobile devices being used every day by thousands of senior executives in
One security expert, Ron Cochoran, president of RER Technology, answers
that question quite succinctly: "If the president can't use it for
security reasons, then there's obviously something wrong with the
The prohibition against BlackBerrys in the White House actually started
with President George W. Bush's administration. "We made a judgment call
prior to September 11, 2001, that people in the White House could not
use a BlackBerry," recalls Joe Hagin, who served as deputy chief of
staff for operations for seven years and is now the CEO of Jet Support
Services, a jet-leasing company.
Ironically, the Bush White House suspended that policy for some staffers
after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "On September 11, we had
tremendous communications challenges, while people on the Hill
[Congress] had communications [through their mobile devices]. I made the
decision that we couldn't operate without them. We bought 200, then 400,
and finally about 600. They are common around the executive branch, and
more than just BlackBerrys."
But users of the White House mobile devices are restricted in what they
can do, to reduce the chance of cyberespionage: GPS is disabled, no one
is permitted to transmit classified data over an unsecured device, and
mobile devices cannot be used overseas where the local networks are
often vulnerable, Hagin says. As Hagin knows firsthand, there are many
highly sophisticated cyberespionage tools available on the cheap and
sold online that could compromise a government or a corporation.
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