Bezos’ phone hack: UN experts call for investigation into alleged Saudi crown prince involvement

United Nations experts on Wednesday called for an immediate investigation by the United States and others into the “possible involvement” of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the hacking of Amazon billionaire and media proprietor Jeff Bezos’ phone in 2018, AP reported.

“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the UN experts said in a statement. “At a time when Saudi Arabia was supposedly investigating the killing of Mr [Jamal] Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post.”

The experts reviewed the digital forensic analysis of Bezos’ phone, which they said was made available to them as UN special rapporteurs. The experts are appointed by the world body but operate independently.

The rapporteurs said the analysis found that within hours of receiving a video there was “an anomalous and extreme change” in the device’s behaviour, with the level of outgoing data from the phone jumping nearly 300-fold.

Saudi officials rejected the allegations as “absurd”. The Saudi Embassy in Washington on Wednesday called for investigation on these claims.

The alleged hacking

On Tuesday, The Guardian reported, citing unidentified people, that Bezos’ phone was hacked after receiving WhatsApp messages from the Saudi crown prince. The results of a digital forensic analysis suggested that the encrypted message included a malicious file that infiltrated Bezos’ phone. Analysts said it was “highly probable” that an infected video file sent from the account of Salman triggered the phone hacking.

The incident took place on May 1, 2018, when Salman and Bezos were having a friendly WhatsApp conversation. Large amounts of data were taken from Bezos’ phone within hours, an unidentified person told the newspaper. However, the newspaper added that it had no information about what data was taken or how it was used.

Digital forensic experts began to examine Bezos’s phone in January 2019 after the National Enquirer published intimate details about his personal life, including an extramarital affair. Bezos’ security team attempted to determine how the tabloid had got hold of his private messages. Bezos had then accused the tabloid of blackmailing him to not publish his intimate photos with a woman.