Here’s What We Know About Saudi Arabia Allegedly Hacking Jeff Bezos' Phone

Saudi Arabia calls a report that the Kingdom hacked the richest man in the world "absurd", but the UN is set to call the allegations credible and call for an investigation.

by David Gilbert
22 January 2020, 2:02pm

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Saudi Arabia blasted claims that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was behind a hack of Jeff Bezos’ phone and the theft of large amounts of his private data, dismissing the allegations as “absurd.”

But a report from the UN on Wednesday is expected to confirm that it is taking the allegations seriously and call for a fuller investigation.

The scandal erupted on Tuesday, when the Guardian reported that Bezos’ phone was compromised after he was sent an encrypted video file in May 2018 from an account belonging to the Crown Prince. It cited a forensic analysis of Bezos’ phone that was commissioned by the Amazon CEO’s own security team.

The analysis, conducted by FTI Consulting, found that a large amount of data was exfiltrated from the phone almost immediately after it was hacked — though it didn’t reveal what that data was.

The Financial Times, which claims to have seen the analysis, says FTI Consulting’s investigators have concluded with “medium to high confidence” that the Crown Prince’s account was used in the cyberattack.

Prior to the incident, Bezos and MBS, as the Crown Prince is commonly known, had been having a seemingly friendly exchange on WhatsApp after they had exchanged numbers at a dinner in LA during the Crown Prince’s tour of the U.S. in April of that year.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday dismissed the allegations as “absurd”:

“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,” the Saudi embassy in Washington said on Twitter.

But, hours after the Guardian’s report was published, David Kaye, the UN’s special rapporteur for free expression, said that on Wednesday he and Agnès Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial murders, would publish a statement with more information about the alleged hack.

Reuters reports that Kaye and Callamard will say there is enough evidence to call for a fuller investigation and that they found the conclusions made in FTI Consulting’s forensic report to be credible.

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Kaye did not immediately return a request for comment on the allegations. Kaye and Callamard are working on a broader report on the incident, due to be handed to the UN by June.

The alleged hacking of Bezos’ phone came five months before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was killed inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October 2018.

The relationship between the Kingdom and Bezos soured early last year when the Washington Post owner alluded to Riyadh’s displeasure at his paper’s coverage of the murder of Khashoggi.

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Bezos’ own security team said in early 2019 they were confident that the Saudi government had access to Bezos’ phone and the Kingdom was behind the leaking of sensitive personal text messages and pictures related to Bezos’ extramarital affair, which were subsequently published by the National Inquirer.

Saudi Arabia denied any links to the incident.

In the wake of Tuesday’s report in the Guardian, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) called the alleged breach “part of a growing trend” in a letter he sent to Bezos calling on the billionaire to provide Congress with as much technical detail as possible to help prevent similar attacks in the future.

Cover: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks during his news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. Bezos announced the Climate Pledge, setting a goal to meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

jeff bezos
Mohammed bin Salman
Jamal Khashoggi