You can’t stop your staff from leaking your dirty laundry to the press

The White House is trying to crack down on staff leaking information to the media.

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
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You can't stop your staff from leaking your dirty laundry to the press

Politico reports that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is trying to silence leaks coming out of the West Wing:

Upon entering Spicer’s office for what one person briefed on the gathering described as “an emergency meeting,” staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a “phone check,” to prove they had nothing to hide.

Spicer, who consulted with White House counsel Don McGahn before calling the meeting, was accompanied by White House lawyers in the room, according to multiple sources.

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There, he explicitly warned staffers that using texting apps like Confide — an encrypted and screenshot-protected messaging app that automatically deletes texts after they are sent — and Signal, another encrypted messaging system, was a violation of the Presidential Records Act, according to multiple sources in the room.

The phone checks included whatever electronics staffers were carrying when they were summoned to the unexpected follow-up meeting, including government-issued and personal cellphones.

The article continues:

Spicer also warned the group of more problems if news of the phone checks and the meeting about leaks was leaked to the media.

So Spicer tried to crack down on leaks by holding a meeting about leaks warning people not to leak about the meeting about the leaks and then his warning about the leaks was leaked to the media.

So, that didn’t work too well, did it?

You can put all the measures and surveillance you want on to your staff to try to prevent them from sharing your organisation’s dirty laundry, gossip and tittle-tattle to the media… but you can’t wipe their memories. There’s nothing to stop them waiting until they get home, out of your organisation’s reach, and passing on the news then.

My hunch is that although a crackdown on the use of unapproved apps and snooping on staff’s smartphones could unearth where your potential leak might be, it could also breed more resentment amongst others in your workforce which might turn them against you.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Humans are the biggest asset to your workplace, but they’re also your biggest problem.


Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

One comment on “You can’t stop your staff from leaking your dirty laundry to the press”

  1. Bob

    The President is going to find it very difficult to control leaks until he commands the respect of his subordinates.

    Regarding 'secure' apps. Neither Confide or Signal is impenetrable because of the inherent vulnerability of the mobile platform, however, if you've got a choice use Signal as it has been independently reviewed.

    Also,

    "You're Donald Trump's sysadmin. You've got data leaks coming out the ass. What to do':"

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/02/27/securing_against_sensitive_data_loss/

    And,

    "Confide: A Quick Look"

    https://www.zdziarski.com/blog/?p=6945

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