BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

The presidential gadget may seem like nothing in the eyes of the public yet it is something that should be safeguarded with all the security resources available.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa was called upon to speak at the Port of Cape Town, for a moment he froze and revealed how important his iPad was in his life.

It was as if the president could not speak without the notes on the First iPad.

What was it about the iPad that kept the president from delivering his speech, even though he knew his core message for the day?

He was not concerned about the iPad itself but the data and information on the iPad. He knew that some State information, no matter how small (assuming he does not store everything in the Apple device), would be compromised.

For many, the moment became the joke of the day, if not the week. However, it should be considered a security wake-up call.

The presidential gadget may seem like nothing in the eyes of the public yet it is something that should be safeguarded with all the security resources available.

Those who look after world leaders understand the importance of safety while using modern technology.

This was clearly revealed when President Barack Obama came into office. He reportedly refused to part with his Blackberry (when BB was a commonly used gadget).

This caused a serious problem for his security team as this was exposing him to cybersecurity threats.

Ultimately, Obama caved in to pressure and used a modified version of the Blackberry. It was almost a special purpose cellphone built for a president of the US. The team around him understood the security associated with using the device.

As a result, the modified device the US president used could not take pictures, text nor play music, for security purposes.

The security situation has again been raised with the US leader, President Joe Biden. BuzzFeed News reported that they found his Venmo account after less than 10 minutes of looking for it, revealing a network of his private social connections, a national security issue for the US, and a major privacy concern for everyone who uses the popular peer-to-peer payments app.

This came after a passing mention in the media that the president had sent his grandchildren money on Venmo. Later, the information was removed by Venmo and the online security loophole was patched.

The challenge with such information being available in the public domain is that by finding the accounts, a person could physically stalk the president, his aides, or members of his family, creating a physical risk for the White House.

There were also espionage risks. A spy or political opponent could have used the information to find out personal information about those close to the US president, or to pose as a member of Biden’s inner circle and communicate with the president or others under false pretences.

What the situation illustrates is that heads of state cannot just use modern technology without exposing themselves to cybersecurity risks. To avoid exposure, special tools are created for the leaders to enable their use of modern technology.

The issue of President Ramaphosa and his iPad raises a couple of questions about his use of technology.

Is President Ramaphosa using a device that is specifically designed for a president? How is the information on his devices stored? These are the questions that should be uppermost in the minds of those who look after the president.

If the device used by the president is an off-the-shelf device, something more should be done to secure it. If the information in the device is stored in the cloud or on the device, something more should be done to secure the information.

Those are issues that should be of greater concern for the president, not only for him but the nation at large, if not the continent.

The data and information of ordinary South Africans are abused by technology multinationals. In most cases, the technology we use daily stores information in the US, and some of the companies use this information for manipulation and to make more money.

It is this abuse of data and information that should be of greater concern to the president over and above his personal iPad.


About Author: Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-in-Chief of Fast Company SA.