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How encrypted communications apps failed to protect Michael Cohen

How encrypted communications apps failed to protect Michael Cohen
[Video: Life Of Pix/Pexels]

Within the detailed federal allegations against former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty yesterday 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. Investigators also managed to reconstruct at least 16 pages of physically shredded documents.

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 on behalf of Trump, violating campaign finance law. 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 taped conversations, stored the conversation logs in a less-than-secure way.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, himself found guilty of eight counts of federal offenses yesterday, also saw his encrypted WhatsApp and Telegram communications brought up in court over alleged witness tampering. Those messages appeared to have been found through Manafort’s Apple iCloud account.

The bottom line: People sending messages through encrypted apps should probably not hang on to copies of their messages and call logs any longer than they have to if they really want to keep those messages secret.

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