A forensic examination of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's mobile phone has pointed to it having allegedly been infected by personal-message-exfiltrating malware - likely NSO Group's notorious Pegasus mobile spyware - that came from Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's personal WhatsApp account. "Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos' phone are absurd".
United Nations rapporteurs said Wednesday their initial findings indicate that bin Salman was involved in the effort to hack Bezos' phone in an attempt to quash The Washington Post's reporting on Saudi Arabia. The Post, at the time of the hack, also had a prominent columnist who wrote against MBS: Jamal Khashoggi, who was later, in October 2018, killed by Saudi agents inside a consulate in Istanbul.
The two experts said they had become aware of a 2019 examination of Bezos's iPhone that found it may have been hacked on May 1, 2018 with an MP4 video file sent from an account used by the Saudi Crown Prince.
An annexe to their report provided further details of an alleged incident in November 2018 when a single photograph was texted to Bezos from the crown prince's WhatsApp account "along with a sardonic caption".
The U.N. experts said that records showed that within hours of receiving the video from Prince Mohammed's account, there was "an anomalous and extreme change in phone behavior" with enormous amounts of data being transmitted and exfiltrated from the phone, undetected, over months.
The Post was harshly critical of the Saudi government after Khashoggi's killing and demanded accountability in a highly public campaign that ran in the paper for weeks after his death.
A Saudi court sentenced five people to death for Mr Khashoggi's murder, who had criticised Prince Mohammed's rule in his writing, while three others were given prison terms totaling 24 years in a move created to close a damaging chapter, at least locally.
According to the Journal, Salman's former senior adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, was also involved in the hacking as part of a broader intimidation campaign against Khashoggi.
While the Kingdom was supposed to be investigating Mr. Khashoggi's murder and prosecuting those responsible, the Rapporteurs said, "it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos".
Along with it, the prince included a joke: It is unclear if Bezos replied.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos may have had his iPhone X compromised by a video he received via WhatsApp, according to a report his security team commissioned.
"During the same period, Mr. Bezos was widely targeted in Saudi social media as an alleged adversary of the Kingdom".
The alleged hack deepens the intrigue around how the Enquirer - which had close links with US President Donald Trump at the time of the alleged extortion - obtained messages exchanged between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, an ex-TV anchor who the tabloid said he was dating.
Lawyers for Ghanem Almasarir, who is believed to live under police protection in the United Kingdom, said the decision to allow them to serve the claim against Saudi Arabia showed he had an "arguable" and legitimate case.
Citizen Lab concluded with a "high degree of confidence" that Saudi Arabia was the ultimate party behind the hack. "There is nothing against you or Amazon from me or Saudi Arabia". While he did not accuse Saudi Arabia's crown prince of being behind the hacking of his phone, he noted that the owner of the National Enquirer had been investigated for various actions taken on behalf of the Saudi government.
Sophisticated mobile spyware - such as the package called Pegasus, made by the Israeli hacker-for-hire company NSO Group - is created to bypass detection and mask its activity.
"For context, this was after the relationship would have been obvious to persons with access to private texts, calls, and images on Bezos" phone, but months before the relationship was known or reported publicly.
Pegasus was first uncovered in 2016 thanks to a human rights activist from the UAE who forwarded it on to tech experts after suspecting he had been targeted.