Saudi Crown Prince linked to hacking of Amazon head's phone

UN experts call for investigation into possible involvement of Mohammed bin Salman in hacking of Jeff Bezos’ iPhone.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Mohammed Bin Salman
Mohammed Bin Salman
Reuters

UN experts on Wednesday called for an immediate investigation into the “possible involvement” of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the hacking of Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos’ iPhone in 2018.

“The alleged hacking of Mr. Bezos’s phone, and those of others, demands immediate investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities, including investigation of the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the Crown Prince in efforts to target perceived opponents,” UN experts said in a statement quoted by CNBC.

“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 experts added.

The statement from the UN’s human rights body centers on forensic investigations into the claim by Bezos that the Saudi government orchestrated a cyberattack against him to extract large amounts of data from his phone.

The full analysis report, carried out by Washington-based business advisory firm FTI Consulting on behalf of the American billionaire, was published exclusively later on Wednesday by Vice’s Motherboard.

Saudi Arabia has consistently rejected the accusations, and the Saudi Embassy in Washington on Wednesday called the allegations “absurd.”

The UN special rapporteurs, who are appointed by the world body but operate independently, made the statement after reviewing the 2019 forensic analysis. Their statements follow earlier investigations into the killing and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote critical commentaries of Saudi Arabia in Bezos’ newspaper and was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

FTI consulting could not detail the specific spyware used in the attack but said its experts had “medium to high confidence” that Bezos’ iPhone was hacked by malware coming from a WhatsApp account used by the Saudi crown prince.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, called the hacking allegations “absolutely illegitimate” and based on “no evidence.”

“It was purely conjecture, and if there is real evidence, we look forward to seeing it,” he told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, according to CNBC.

According to the 2019 forensic analysis by FTI Consulting, Bezos’ phone was likely “infiltrated on 1 May 2018 via an MP4 video file sent from a WhatsApp account utilized personally by Mohammed bin Salman.”

Bezos and the crown prince had reportedly exchanged numbers the previous month. Within hours of the video being sent from the crown prince’s account, “massive and (for Bezos’ phone) unprecedented exfiltration of data from the phone began” — the volume of data being transited to another location suddenly shot up by nearly 30,000% to 126 MB.

“Data spiking then continued undetected over some months and at rates as much as 106,032,045% (4.6 GB) higher than the pre-video data egress baseline for Mr. Bezos’ phone of 430KB,” the report said.

At the same time, FTI maintained that they could not decisively conclude what kind of malware was used. “Due to end-to-end encryption employed by WhatsApp,” the analysts wrote, “it is virtually impossible to decrypt the contents of the downloader to determine if it contained any malicious code in addition to the delivered video.”

The UN statement noted that the alleged hacking of Bezos’ phone was “consistent with the widely reported role of the crown prince in leading a campaign against dissidents and political opponents.”

The accusations also carry echoes of a 2019 US criminal case against two Twitter employees and a Saudi national who accessed private accounts of certain users critical of the Saudi royal family that they then shared with the kingdom’s authorities.

Saudi Arabia has admitted that Khashoggi was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, after previously denying Turkish claims that he was murdered.

At the same time, the Saudi leadership claimed Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue” operation and denies any connection to the murder.

Last month, the kingdom sentenced five people to death and three to jail over the murder of Khashoggi.

The murder resulted in tensions between lawmakers and the White House. President Donald Trump had reaffirmed his support for Saudi Arabia, despite the murder of Khashoggi, insisting the US-Saudi Arabian alliance is beneficial not only for American interests, but also for those of Israel.

Lawmakers from both parties, meanwhile, had called for a strong US response to Khashoggi's murder.



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