Cyberthreats abound and on Thursday Politico reported another intrusion close to the heart of the U.S. government, as White House officials believe chief of staff John Kelly’s personal cellphone was hacked, possibly as far back as December 2016. The intrusion was discovered over the summer when Kelly turned in his phone to White House tech support, complaining that it wasn’t functioning properly and hadn’t been for months. That means the breach was presumably discovered around the time when Kelly left his post as the head of the Department of Homeland Security and moved to the West Wing as President Trump’s chief of staff on July 28.
White House officials told Politico it’s still unclear when or where Kelly’s phone was hacked and what if any data swiped. Before joining the Trump administration, Kelly was a four-star Marine general and headed the United States Southern Command, until his retirement in January 2016. Administration officials say Kelly’s travel schedule before joining the administration in January 2017 is being reviewed to try to identify where the breach might have originated.
It’s hard to overstate how serious a breach of Kelly’s phone would be, considering he’s occupied two of the most senior and sensitive positions in the U.S. government over the past year. It’s unclear what information may or may not have been exposed through Kelly’s phone, but the danger is clear, particularly for a White House staff that has been cavalier about its cybersecurity hygiene. White House staff have have been known to regularly use personal devices and email addresses for official business, a practice former chief of staff Reince Priebus tried to stamp out by asking aides to store personal phones in secure lockers while at work. “A White House spokesman said Kelly hadn’t used the personal phone often since joining the administration,” according to Politico. “This official said Kelly relied on his government-issued phone for official communications.”