Amazon CEO, and the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos had his phone hacked by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
A malicious payload was delivered to Bezos’ phone via an infected video sent from Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s personal WhatsApp account.
Bezos and Bin Salman first exchanged numbers at a dinner in 2018. A month later, the Bezos received the video which downloaded malware that remained undetected for months.
Analysis of Bezos’ phone found that “a massive and unauthorised exfiltration of data” began within hours of the video being received.
FTI Consulting – the team charged with analysing Bezos’ phone –began investigating the phone after US tabloid the National Enquirer published text messages Bezos had sent to his mistress, Lauren Sanchez.
A thumbnail of the message Bin Salman sent to Bezos. Source: FTI
After tracing the spyware back to a WhatsApp message from Bin Salman, FTI found evidence that suggest the Crown Prince knew non-public information about Bezos.
One message from Bin Salman was received after Bezos had been given a briefing about an extensive online Saudi campaign targeting the Amazon boss. It said, in broken English, “Jeff all what you hear or told to it’s not true … there is nothing against you or amazon from me or Saudi Arabia”.
A message from Bin Salman to Bezos. Source: FTI
In another instance, the Prince sent Bezos a meme about arguing with women right when Bezos and his wife were discussing divorce, but months before that information was public.
The FTI report mentions that the spyware may have been built by NSO Group – the team behind the notorious Pegasus spyware that plagued WhatsApp last year.
NSO denied that its technology was used and said it was “shocked and appalled by the story”.
Bezos owns the Washington Post, a newspaper for which Jamal Khashoggi – a vocal critic of the Saudi regime – was a columnist. In October 2018, Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Washington Post and New York Times both published stories about Bin Salman ordering Khashoggi’s death.
Two Special Rapporteurs to the UN, David Keye and Agnes Callamard, said recently that the latest hacking allegations against Bin Salman were “an effort to influence, if not silence” Bezos and the Post on its reporting of Saudi Arabia.
“These allegations are relevant as well to ongoing evaluation of claims about the Crown Prince’s involvement in the 2018 murder of Saudi and Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi,” the Special Rapporteurs said.
Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement in the hacking of Bezos’ phone, with the Saudi Embassy tweeting that the allegations are "absurd" and that it was calling for an investigation into the claims.
CNN reporter Jake Tapper responded scathingly that "there was a respected Washing Post columnist who I would love to have investigate the matter but you killed him".
Great idea. There was a respected Washington Post columnist who i would love to have investigate the matter but you killed him https://t.co/ynNJ7kg4z5— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 22, 2020
The Special Rapporteurs said they will “continue investigating the murder of Mr. Khashoggi and the growing role of surveillance in permitting the unaccountable use of spyware to intimidate journalists, human rights defenders and owners of media outlets”.