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TAG Cyber Law Journal

November 2019
A president’s adviser and an old iPhone lead to serious questions.
A president’s adviser and an old iPhone lead to serious questions.
By David Hechler
By David Hechler
LAST MONTH A CYBERSECURITY STORY MADE THE ROUNDS that may have seemed small and silly—the kind of piece created for punchlines on late-night TV. But on reflection, it seems to epitomize a serious problem.
     It’s about Rudy Giuliani and his iPhone 6. No, I’m not talking about his butt-dialing reporters, even though there's plenty one could say about that. I’m thinking about his trip to the Apple store, as reported by NBC News. 
     The story took us back to January 2017. That was when President Trump named Giuliani his cybersecurity adviser. This was well before New York’s former mayor was functioning as the president’s personal attorney. But they were friends and they were close and they seemed to be communicating regularly.  
     That was why his trip to an Apple retail store in San Francisco provoked alarm, at least in retrospect. He showed up bright one morning, less than a month after he’d been dubbed cybersecurity adviser, to get help with a problem. He’d tried to enter his passcode at least 10 times, but apparently he’d forgotten it.  And now he was locked out of his phone.
     What’s wrong with this picture? When the story broke, all these months later, it seemed to elicit lots of guffaws. Especially since the anecdotes about Giuliani’s recent butt dials were paired with this earlier misadventure. And given the partisan divide in this country, and Giuliani’s prominence in the news over the past few months, it’s not surprising that it was played by some for laughs. But whatever your political persuasion, if you care about cybersecurity, there’s nothing funny about this.
     President Trump does not use a computer. That’s fine. There’s no shame in that. Using one is not a job requirement. But what is required of his job is a recognition that cybersecurity is part of national security. We downplay it at our great peril. Therefore, a president who has limited knowledge about, and experience with, computers is all the more dependent on the experts who advise him.
     Giuliani was in no position to advise the president on this subject. Not only did he lack basic proficiency, he has demonstrated a carelessness in using his unsecured phone to conduct business. In fact, as the NBC article pointed out, bringing his phone to an Apple store for repairs was another indication of a casual attitude toward security. Even if his phone contained nothing more confidential than information about his law firm’s clients.
     But the larger problem is that this episode seems to be symptomatic of an attitude. There was another news story last month that raised questions about the administration’s view of cybersecurity.
     A senior cybersecurity director in the White House expressed alarm that the Office of the Chief Information Security Officer was being folded into the Office of the Chief Information Officer. He wrote about it in his resignation letter. The White House, he said, “is posturing itself to be electronically compromised once again.” And he wasn’t alone in leaving. The administration’s actions had prompted many career cybersecurity professionals to jump ship, he said.
     Nor was this an isolated incident. In 2018, the position of cybersecurity coordinator on the staff of the National Security Council was eliminated. The role was deemed to be unnecessary and duplicative—a conclusion that mystified and worried cybersecurity experts.
     So the Giuliani story seems to be part of a pattern. And it’s a troubling one. In this light, it doesn’t seem so comical. In fact, it should leave us pondering some serious questions. The one that occurs to me is: If this was the president’s cybersecurity adviser, who’s minding the store?