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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Explained: How Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman hacked Amazon founder Jeff Bezos

Explained: How Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman hacked Amazon founder Jeff Bezos


A UN report has confirmed that a WhatsApp video sent by the Saudi Crown Prince to the Amazon founder contained code that stole data from the latter’s phone. Pegasus spyware was likely used in the hacking




A malicious file attached to an encrypted video message sent on WhatsApp is believed to have been used in hacking Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’s iPhone in May 2018. The sender of the message: Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman (MBS).
The Financial Times and The Guardian reported on Wednesday that a forensic analysis of Bezos’s phone showed that it was compromised via the WhatsApp message.
United Nations report released late on Wednesday evening confirmed the hacking and provided extensive forensic details. It said Bezos was “subjected to intrusive surveillance via hacking of his phone as a result of actions attributable to the WhatsApp account used by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman”, and linked the break-in to criticism of the Saudi regime and Prince Mohammad personally by The Washington Post, the media organisation that Bezos owns.
The report has concluded the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group was “most likely” used in the hacking. Pegasus was used last year to target some 1,400 devices in 20 countries across four continents, including at least two dozen academics, lawyers, Dalit activists, and journalists in India.
The UN report called for further investigations into the contravention of the “fundamental international human rights standard”, as evidenced by the targeting of Bezos.

Why was Jeff Bezos’s phone hacked? What exactly happened?



That Bezos’s phone had been compromised was reported last year, and it was suspected that Saudi Arabia had a hand in the hacking. What has now been confirmed is the vector, and the method used for the hacking — and that Prince Mohammad was personally involved.
In February 2019, Bezos wrote a blog post alleging he was being blackmailed by David Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc (AMI), which owns the tabloid The National Enquirer. The tabloid had published intimate text messages that Bezos had sent to his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez.
One reason for the alleged blackmail was The Washington Post’s reporting, which had exposed The National Enquirer’s connections with the Saudi regime. The Post, and especially its columnist Jamal Khashoggi, had been very critical of MBS. Khashoggi was subsequently lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and murdered by Saudi agents.
In March 2019, Gavin De Becker a security expert hired by Bezos to investigate the blackmail, wrote a long post in The Daily Beast, explaining that the messages and intimate texts were likely obtained illegally from Bezos’s phone, and that the Saudis were responsible.

Why was Jeff Bezos’s phone hacked? What exactly happened?

That Bezos’s phone had been compromised was reported last year, and it was suspected that Saudi Arabia had a hand in the hacking. What has now been confirmed is the vector, and the method used for the hacking — and that Prince Mohammad was personally involved.
In February 2019, Bezos wrote a blog post alleging he was being blackmailed by David Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc (AMI), which owns the tabloid The National Enquirer. The tabloid had published intimate text messages that Bezos had sent to his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez.
One reason for the alleged blackmail was The Washington Post’s reporting, which had exposed The National Enquirer’s connections with the Saudi regime. The Post, and especially its columnist Jamal Khashoggi, had been very critical of MBS. Khashoggi was subsequently lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and murdered by Saudi agents.
In March 2019, Gavin De Becker a security expert hired by Bezos to investigate the blackmail, wrote a long post in The Daily Beast, explaining that the messages and intimate texts were likely obtained illegally from Bezos’s phone, and that the Saudis were responsible.

Explained: What is Pegasus?

It is a spyware that can infect both Android and iOS phones. It is usually deployed by sending a specially created link to the target device. Once deployed, the hacker has complete access to the data on the victim’s phone. The spyware can be used to monitor the device, and even turn on the camera and microphone to eavesdrop on targets.
All data collected from the device are sent back to the NSO Group’s Pegasus servers. NSO has in the past claimed its software is only licensed to law enforcement agencies, and not used to spy on users. It is believed that the cost of a license for Pegasus is exorbitant enough to ensure that only governments are customers.
In October 2019, it was revealed that the NSO Group had exploited a vulnerability in WhatsApp’s voice/video calling protocol to plant the spyware on phones. All that was needed was a voice or video call to the victim’s phone on WhatsApp — the victim didn’t have to take the call; a missed call was enough. Some two dozen devices used by Indian activists and journalists were targeted.

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