SAN FRANCISCO (Dispatches) – Two UN officials are about to report that there is enough evidence suggesting that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman had hacked Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos’ phone and both the kingdom and the United States should investigate, a person familiar with the matter says.
The United Nations’ officials plan a public statement asserting that they found credible a forensic report commissioned by Bezos’ security team which concluded that his phone probably had been hacked with a tainted video sent from a WhatsApp account belonging to bin Salman.
The report by FTI Consulting concluded that massive amounts of data began leaving Bezos’ phone about a month after the video was shared in mid-2018, the person said, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject.
Outside experts consulted by the UN agreed that while the case was not airtight, the evidence was strong enough to warrant a fuller investigation.
The report is set to worsen relations between the world’s richest man and the kingdom which had soured following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, who was also a columnist for the Bezos’ owned Washington Post.
The digital forensic analysis, whose results were published by The Guardian on Tuesday, found that it is "highly probable” that the intrusion into Bezos’ phone was triggered by an infected video file sent from bin Salman’s account.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources told The Guardian that the two men had been having a seemingly friendly WhatsApp exchange when, on 1 May 2018, the unsolicited file was sent.
Large amounts of data were acquired from Bezos’s phone within a matter of hours, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The Financial Times reported that the malicious file was sent weeks after the pair exchanged numbers at a dinner in Los Angeles.
Cybersecurity expert Anthony Ferrante, who conducted the analysis, said he determined with a "medium to high degree of confidence” that dozens of gigabytes were exfiltrated, possibly with Pegasus spying software.
It came one year after private information about Bezos was leaked to the American tabloid The National Enquirer.
In January 2019, it published text messages between the billionaire and former Fox television presenter Lauren Sanchez, saying, Bezos had been "caught cheating on his wife of 25 years with the spouse of a Hollywood mogul!”
A month after the publication of that alleged affair, Bezos accused the American Media Incorporated (AMI), The National Enquirer’s parent company, of "extortion and blackmail,” saying it had threatened to publish his intimate photos unless he said publicly that the tabloid’s reporting was not politically motivated.
Saudi experts told The Guardian that Bezos was probably targeted because of his ownership of The Washington Post and its coverage of Saudi Arabia.
In an op-ed for The Daily Beast in March 2019, Bezos’ security consultant, Gavin de Becker, wrote, "Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information.”
Khashoggi — an outspoken critic of the heir to the Saudi throne — was killed and his body was dismembered by a Saudi hit squad after being lured into the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018.