Security vs convenience
A version of this post originally appeared in the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter.
President Trump began his new job and, at the insistence of the Secret Service, finally ditched his old cell phone for something more secure. Trump’s reported reluctance to part with his Android device was not unusual—people in power, like most of us, prefer convenience over security.
The tech-loving President Obama, for instance, complained on TV that his POTUS-edition smartphone didn’t have popular Internet features. (As for Hillary Clinton, her IT operations included not just that infamous server but also aides who smashed her old BlackBerries with hammers).
When it comes to the U.S. president, though, there’s no room for balance between security and ease-of-operations: Security is paramount. But for almost everyone else, including the thousands of women descending on Washington D.C. to protest on Saturday, there’s a case for convenience.
Not everyone is willing to acknowledge this, however, and one result is misinformation among women in Washington about the popular messaging app WhatsApp. Specifically, an irresponsible news article has reportedly led protest leaders to warn that WhatsApp FB contains a “backdoor” and is not a secure way to communicate.
The WhatsApp allegation is false. While the app does contain a security hole—an “attack surface” in hacker parlance—it’s a tiny one that can only be exploited in very unusual circumstances. What’s more, the hole reflects a design decision by the makers of WhatsApp, who understood that eliminating the risk entirely would make the app less convenient to use, and that people would likely turn to a less secure form of messaging instead.
This is what we must understand when it comes to cyber security for ordinary people: Perfect must not be the enemy of the good. But for President Trump, the stakes are different and nothing less than perfect security will do. Let’s hope Trump, whose previous positions on “the cyber” can charitably be described as contradictory, by now understands that.