Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was the victim of a hack on WhatsApp that apparently came from Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a report from The Guardian
Referencing the results of a digital forensic analysis, The Guardian claims the hack, which occurred in May 2018, targeted Bezos’ personal cellphone and several pieces of unknown content on there.
The report recounts that Bezos and the Saudi prince were having a friendly conversation over WhatsApp when the crown prince’s account sent a message with a mysterious video file. Bezos’ device would later be compromised and large amounts of data were moved off the phone, according to the Guardian report. A documentary titled The Dissident which is set to premier on January 24, 2020 says that the video sent to Bezos’ phone took advantage of a WhatsApp vulnerability discovered in May 2018 to inject Pegasus spyware, The Washington Post reported. Prince Mohammed was caught up in controversy last year over the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and has faced considerable scrutiny over his country’s human rights record.
“Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd,” Saudi Arabia’s US embassy tweeted in denial of The Guardian’s claims. “We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.”
After reports of his extramarital affair surfaced, Bezos conducted investigations of potential security breaches.
These incidents are notable given the proximity of when these security breaches took place. Back in February 2019, Bezos accused the National Enquirer in a revealing Medium post of its attempt to blackmail him with text messages and nude photos exposing details of his extramarital affair.
Bezos’s security chief, Gavin de Becker, claimed that the Saudi government was involved in acquiring this information, and de Becker even speculated that the Saudi government may have been the source for the National Enquirer’s story.
The Washington Post covered Khashoggi’s murder extensively and the CIA eventually determined that the crown prince ordered the murder himself, despite denials from the Saudi crown and a suspicious trial that convicted eight men for the murder. Some experts speculate that the targeting of Bezos may have been a Saudi plan to gain leverage over Bezos due to the Post’s long list of articles criticizing the kingdom.
“He probably believed that if he got something on Bezos, it could shape coverage of Saudi Arabia in The Post,” Andrew Miller, a Middle East expert and a former national security advisor in the Obama administration, told The Guardian. “It is clear that the Saudis have no real boundaries or limits in terms of what they are prepared to do in order to protect and advance [Mohammed bin Salman], whether it is going after the head of one of the largest companies in the world or a dissident who is on their own.”