It could go down as Barack Obama's first presidential triumph. After a fierce negotiation with his handlers, Obama announced that he'd be able to keep his beloved BlackBerry—making him the nation's first e-mailing president. "I won the fight," he crowed to reporters. George W. Bush gave up e-mail while in office, knowing that nearly every word he typed was subject to public-records requests. Yet Obama fought hard against history to keep his precious, telling advisers they'd have to "pry it out of my hands."
But Obama won't be carrying the same BlackBerry. Instead, he'll get a new device specially equipped with superencrypting security software to ward off hackers. His address book will be limited to a small group of family, friends and senior staffers, all of whom must first receive a security briefing to get on the list. A special server will block emails from unapproved senders, and messages sent by the president will be encrypted so that they cannot be forwarded. (NEWSWEEK has learned that Vice President Joe Biden quickly me-too'd and will get a similar device.)
Security experts say the real worry isn't someone hacking into Obama's BlackBerry but rather more mundane issues raised by an e-mailing commander in chief, such as phishing, which is when an email sender tries to trick the recipient into thinking the message is from someone else. "How easy would it be for someone to impersonate the president on e-mail?" says Randy Sabett, a cyberprivacy expert who once worked at the National Security Agency. There's also the matter of securing the handhelds belonging to people on Obama's shortlist. Last year, Bush officials had a scare when BlackBerrys belonging to two staffers were stolen by an aide to Mexican President Felipe Calderón during a summit meeting. Officials insisted that no sensitive information was compromised. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who declined to go into detail about Obama's BlackBerry, implied that his device would be used chiefly for informal communication. "It's a way of keeping in touch with folks," Gibbs said. Make that a very select group of folks.