Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

Encrypted Communications Apps Failed to Protect Michael Cohen

Encryption keeps data and telephone conversations safe from prying eyes if, and only if, it is used properly by someone who understands the strengths and weaknesses of the technology. Apparently, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is not one of those people. One thing you should never do is to record the conversations and then save them in clear (unencrypted) text and audio files.

Within the detailed federal allegations against former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty earlier this week to eight charges including campaign finance violations, are multiple references to texts sent by Cohen and even a call made “through an encrypted telephone application.” Cohen was apparently a fan of encrypted communications apps like WhatsApp and Signal, but those tools failed to keep his messages and calls out of sight from investigators. In June, prosecutors said in a court filing the FBI had obtained 731 pages of messages and call logs from those apps from Cohen’s phones.

What intrigued me was the statement that investigators also managed to reconstruct at least 16 pages of physically shredded documents.

Somebody reconstructed shedded documents? That had to be a tedious job!

Those logs, judging by the charging document, appear to have helped document at least Cohen’s communications with officials at the National Enquirer about allegations from porn actress Stormy Daniels — whom Cohen allegedly paid hush money on behalf of Trump, violating campaign finance law.

Details may be found in an article by Steven Melendez in the Fast Company web site at:

It’s unclear if the FBI actually broke through any layers of encryption to get the data. It’s possible that Cohen, who apparently at times recorded conversations, stored the conversations in a less-than-secure way. While the live cell phone conversations may have been encrypted, the recordings probably were not encrypted or secured in any other manner.

The FBI hasn’t yet told how they intercepted the conversations. All we know for sure is that Cohen was known to record and save his conversations and text messages. The ASSUMPTION is that the FBI was able retrieve those unencrypted conversations when the FBI obtained a court order and raided Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room.

Moral of the story: Don’t store your your private data, voice conversations, or video conversations in any unencrypted manner!

Categories: Legal Affairs

2 replies

  1. “Somebody reconstructed shedded documents? That had to be a tedious job!”

    No, actually, this is old science.
    “How to reassemble a shredded document.
    By Adrian Chen”
    “How do you reconstruct documents after they’ve been passed through a shredder?
    With a computer. In a typical reconstruction process, technicians feed all the available shreds into a scanner.An automated software program then assigns a unique ID to each piece and analyzes a number of characteristics, including size, color, indentation, and font. Using a matching algorithm, the software then identifies potential neighboring shreds, displaying them onscreen for an operator to confirm. (For the home user, an Israeli company sells software that can turn any PC and scanner into an “unshredder.”)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. But talking about “tedious” this feat might be hard to beat LOL!:
    “After the Iranian Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, Iranians enlisted local carpet weavers who reconstructed the pieces by hand. The recovered documents would be later released by the Iranian government in a series of books called “Documents from the US espionage Den”.[16] The US government subsequently improved its shredding techniques by adding pulverizing, pulping, and chemical decomposition protocols.”

    See also accompanying photo:
    “An example of a shredded and reassembled document during Iran hostage crisis”

    Liked by 1 person

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