Saudi Arabia is denying reports that Amazon chief Jeff Bezos’ phone was hacked when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent him a video file loaded with spyware over WhatsApp.
In a Tuesday night tweet, Saudi Arabia’s U.S. Embassy said 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.”
An investigation is already under way. According to multiple news outlets, the United Nations is looking into the matter and demanding answers from Saudi Arabia.
Hours before the Saudi denial, the Guardian reported that after MBS’ account sent an infected file in an encrypted message in May 2018, “large amounts of data” were taken from the billionaire’s phone. Later, the Financial Times reported the hack was “massive” and continued for months.
Cybersecurity expert Anthony Ferrante, who conducted a forensic analysis, told the FT that he determined with a “medium to high degree of confidence” that dozens of gigabytes were exfiltrated—possibly with a tool called Pegasus, according to some reports—after the video file was sent.
The prince and Bezos met at a dinner in Los Angeles in the spring of 2018 and exchanged numbers, the FT reported. They were having a friendly chat on WhatsApp when the video file was reportedly sent.
Five months later, Bezos’ relationship with Saudi Arabia hit the rocks when Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Bezos-owned Washington Post and a critic of the kingdom’s rulers, was murdered—on MBS’ orders, according to the CIA.
The alleged hack, however, wasn’t uncovered until early 2019, after the National Enquirer published racy texts that the married billionaire had sent his mistress—and Bezos launched an investigation to determine the source of the leak.
In an op-ed for The Daily Beast in March, Bezos’ security consultant, Gavin de Becker, wrote: “Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information.”
He added that it was unclear if The National Enquirer’s publisher, American Media Inc., was aware of that.
According to The Washington Post, a United Nations report on the alleged hack will be released Wednesday, though the newspaper reported that it was unclear if the world body did its own forensic analysis or accepted the one provided by Bezos’ team.
U.N. officials have asked Saudi Arabia to explain what investigators have found, Yahoo News reported.