By Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
Though it’s fairly common for hotels to experience issues with cyber-security and hacking—hotels in recent years have experienced a deluge of malware attacks and incidents involving hackers targeting guests via Wi-Fi connections—not every hotel doubles as a weekend getaway for the president of the United States. Unfortunately, as an investigation by ProPublica and Gizmodo found, the Wi-Fi networks at President Donald Trump’s properties are actually rather easy to hack into.
Piloting a boat within 800 feet of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private Palm Beach resort, reporters used a wireless antenna to identify Wi-Fi networks with weak encryption within the “Winter White House.” The security was apparently no better in Bedminster, New Jersey, where they drove through the grounds of the Trump National Golf Club, locating two open, unsecured networks near the clubhouse. Trump’s Sterling, Virginia, golf club and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., were similarly vulnerable. Though it’s not clear whether Trump himself uses those Wi-Fi networks, he’s frequently hosted foreign dignitaries at Mar-a-Lago, where the president regularly mingles with members. Earlier this year, guests were treated to an unexpected show when North Korea conducted a missile test while Trump was eating dinner on the terrace with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, prompting Trump’s team to set up a plein air situation room as paying members snapped photos.
The lack of strong cyber-security at Trump’s properties could present a national-security threat, the reporters argue. Any “half-decent hacker” could use the unsecured Wi-Fi networks to control the recording devices on connected equipment, for example, or download a database of club members’ information. “Those networks all have to be crawling with foreign intruders,” digital security executive Dave Aitel told Gizmodo and ProPublica. “I’d assume the data is already stolen and systems compromised,” Jeremiah Grossman, chief of Security Strategy for cyber-security firm SentinelOne, said of the Trump properties’ security systems, calling them “bad, very bad.”
Trump’s lavish lifestyle and frequent travel to his properties has presented an unprecedented challenge for the U.S. Secret Service, which has already requested an additional $60 million for next year to help cover costs. It’s not clear, however, how much of that budget—if any—has gone to securing computer networks at Trump’s hotels, resorts, and golf clubs across the country. In 2016, Gizmodo and ProPublica report that Mar-a-Lago had a security budget of $442,931; by contrast, the Defense Information Systems Agency, which operates security for the White House and Camp David, has a multi-million dollar budget. (“Camp David is very rustic, it’s nice, you’d like it,” Trump reportedly remarked to one journalist. “You know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.”)
Amanda Miller, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, told the publications that Trump properties follow “cyber-security best practices.” “Like virtually every other company these days, we are routinely targeted by cyberterrorists whose only focus is to inflict harm on great American businesses,” she said. “While we will not comment on specific security measures, we are confident in the steps we have taken to protect our business and safeguard our information. Our teams work diligently to deploy best-in-class firewall and anti-vulnerability platforms with constant 24/7 monitoring.”