Remember when Russian President Vladimir Putin gave President Donald Trump an Adidas soccer ball at their summit in Finland? If that didn’t make much sense to you, it helps to know that Russia hosted the World Cup this year. Anyway, it turns out that the ball appears to have a chip in it that’s able to transmit information to nearby cell phones. Great!
Senator Lindsey Graham even tweeted about the souvenir, writing, “If it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.”
Finally, if it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 16, 2018
There’s a logo on the ball that shows that it has what’s known as a near-field communication (NFC) tag, which is a chip included in all the Adidas 2018 FIFA World Cup balls, according to Bloomberg. The chip transmits information to nearby mobile devices, so users can hold their phones close to the ball to access videos and competitions.
Adidas declined to give a comment to Bloomberg, but the product description on the Adidas website says that the chip can’t be modified. Their exact text is “It is not possible to delete or rewrite the encoded parameters.” So there’s no indication that the ball or the chip presents any danger to security.
In 2015, a hacker showed that an NFC chip could be used to install a malicious file that took over a phone, Forbes reported. But the user had to agree to open the file in the first place.
Any sort of security attack via the Adidas soccer ball doesn’t seem likely, according to Linus Neumann, a spokesman for a hacker collective called the Chaos Computer Club. As Neumann explained to Bloomberg, “Trump would have to ignore multiple security warnings and intentionally install a malware on his device. He added that the hack would only work if Trump were to “[fall] for a silly attack like this.” Hmm.
It’s worth mentioning that Trump doesn’t follow the security protocols for his phone, calling them “too inconvenient.” And Politico reported that White House officials believe chief of staff John Kelly’s cell phone was hacked at one point while he was secretary of Homeland Security, meaning foreign governments may have gotten access to data on his phone.
It’s not entirely clear whether the particular ball given to Trump by Putin actually contains the chip. In an email, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders wrote, “The security screening process that is done for all gifts was done for the soccer ball.”
Sounds like everything’s fine, then. Right? Probably. Sure.