Saudi royalty implicated in Amazon Bezos' phone-hacking scandal
The 2018 hacking of Amazon Jeff Bezos' smartphone led to the leaking of compromising information to a newspaper, a private investigation into the affair claims, with the hack allegedly involving a malformed video sent from the WhatsApp account of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The February 2019 reports publishing details of private photographs and text messages from Bezos to his mistress, Lauren Sanchez, raised questions about device security, as it involved one of the richest men in the world. It was unknown how the data was acquired at the time, but it appears the source was Bezos' personal smartphone, after it was backed months before in May 2018.
U.N. officials are anticipated to report there is evidence to suggest Saudi Arabia hacked the Amazon CEO's smartphone, Reuters reports. The officials are said to be preparing to confirm a digital forensic report from Bezos' security team that the device was most likely compromised by a malware-laden video.
Furthermore, the video was said to be sent from a WhatsApp account owned by Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. One month after the compromise, data started to be sent from the phone to the attackers, which was then combed through and distributed to the National Enquirer.
Originally reported by the Guardian, it is unclear what device Bezos used and what data that was acquired in the breach in total, but the amount of data taken was substantial in volume.
The Saudi Arabian embassy in the United States has dismissed the report. A post to Twitter calls the recent reports "absurd," and calls "for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out."
Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos' phone are absurd. We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.— Saudi Embassy (@SaudiEmbassyUSA) January 22, 2020
The statement from the U.N. will be made by Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur for extra-judicial killings, and David Kaye, special rapporteur for free expression, with a fuller report expected to be given to the UN in June. Callamard's involvement is notable as they are involved in the investigation surrounding the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered following a visit to an embassy in 2018.
Khashoggi's investigation also involved hacking, as reports centered around his use of an Apple Watch, which reportedly recorded seven minutes of audio during the attack. The Saudis were said to have managed to wipe some files from Khashoggi's devices, but not from his iCloud account.
Mohammed bin Salman was believed by the CIA to have personally ordered the death of Khashoggi.
The motives behind the Bezos hacking and information release are unclear. Andrew Miller, an expert on the Middle East who worked on the National Security Council under President Obama, suggests that it may have been to exert influence over the billionaire.
"He probably believed that if he got something on Bezos it could shape coverage of Saudi Arabia in the Washington Post" Miller said, referring to the publication owned by Bezos that also published Khashoggi's columns.
The timing of the Bezos data trove coincided with the start of a divorce between Jeff and McKenzie Bezos, with the National Enquirer providing details of Jeff's affair with Sanchez one day after its announcement. Three months later, MacKenzie Bezos received an estimated $36 billion, but handed over holdings and voting rights in Amazon and rocket company Blue Origin to her estranged husband.