President Obama, who made no secret of his penchant for BlackBerry smartphones when he took office, has been photographed recently wielding an Apple iPad.
When the White House released an image in January showing the president viewing his daily intelligence briefing via iPad, many assumed the mobile device was designed to handle secure communications. Instead, intelligence officials simply downloaded the briefing onto the presidential iPad and disabled its Wi-Fi capability, said Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“The tablet gives us a way to present the PDB in a multimedia format,” Turner said. “Video or audio files can be embedded.”
He declined to comment on any specific steps government officials are taking to protect sensitive information on the device but said, “It’s very secure.”
Nevertheless, some security experts were surprised to see such highly classified information on any type of mobile device.
“My first thought was, ‘Holy crap! I hope they secured that thing,’” said Tony DeLaGrange, a security consultant at Secure Ideas of Jacksonville, Fla.
DeLaGrange and other security experts said the move was inevitable.
“Let’s face it, the rest of the world has been using mobile devices for years,” said Andrew Storms, information technology director for San Francisco-based nCircle Network Security. Plus, it’s hard to deny the iPad’s appeal, said W. Hord Tipton, executive director of the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium. Tipton took no issue with the White House’s security strategy.
“Operating on embedded hardware and software machines is safer, in my mind, than sending stuff over the wire,” Tipton said.
Other security officials suggested, however, that it might be better if the president’s iPad were linked to a secure network. Then, he would be able to communicate with his intelligence staff during briefings. In addition, the network would give security teams remote access to add or remove data from the iPad.
“They could deliver the briefing to the president just in time and as soon as he was done viewing it, it could be removed,” Storms said.
That feature would be particularly welcome in the unlikely event that someone misplaced the presidential iPad.
“We saw pictures of him walking with an iPad, getting into his limousine with an iPad,” Storms said. “Who knows if that briefing was still on there. I can’t imagine they would ever lose the president’s iPad, but strange things happen.”