22 January 2020

The Guardian: “Jeff Bezos hack: Amazon boss’s phone hacked by Saudi crown prince”

This analysis found it “highly probable” that the intrusion into the phone was triggered by an infected video file sent from the account of the Saudi heir to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.

The two men had been having a seemingly friendly WhatsApp exchange when, on 1 May of that year, the unsolicited file was sent, according to sources who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity.

Large amounts of data were exfiltrated from Bezos’s phone within hours, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Guardian has no knowledge of what was taken from the phone or how it was used.

Saudi experts – dissidents and analysts – told the Guardian they believed Bezos was probably targeted because of his ownership of the Post and its coverage of Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi’s critical columns about Mohammed bin Salman and his campaign of repression against activists and intellectuals rankled the crown prince and his inner circle.

Stephanie Kirchgaessner

I’ve read a couple of other press reports about this extraordinary news – then again, what is ‘extraordinary’ in 2020 anymore? – but I failed to find the answer to one simple question: why was Jeff Bezos communicating directly with a foreign head of state, on a secured channel no less?! Feels like this piece of information would be quite relevant for the story…

Jeff Bezos with Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to the US in March 2018
Jeff Bezos with Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to the US in March 2018. Photograph: Saudi Press Agency

Coincidently, a fresh example how encryption can hinder investigations and law enforcement:

The forensics research found no known malware on Bezos’ hacked iPhone, according to the UN. It did find a video file sent from the crown prince’s account to Bezos on WhatsApp, but didn’t find any malicious code on the clip itself.

However, the malware could have been hidden on an encrypted downloader hosted on WhatsApp’s media server. The researchers weren’t able to analyze the contents of the downloader because of WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption.

Alfred Ng, Ben Fox Rubin

Update: some (scarce) information started surfacing about the circumstances of the first meeting between Jeff Bezos and Mohammed bin Salman. Meanwhile, some cybersecurity experts doubt the conclusion of the report prepared by FTI Consulting, saying they didn’t go far enough in their analysis. I expect there is considerably more to this story, and I’m curious to see how much it will impact the relationship between the United Stated, and Silicon Valley specifically, and Saudi Arabia.

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