Tech

UN experts back suggestion Saudi prince helped hack Bezos

Two U.N. human rights experts said Wednesday that theres evidence to suggest the “possible involvement” of the Saudi crown prince in the hacking of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, and urged a U.S. investigation.

The U.N. experts drew their conclusions based on a technical report from digital forensics analysts last year that there was a “reasonable belief” with “medium to high confidence” that 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.”

A subsequent online campaign against Bezos and Amazon followed reporting by The Washington Post, which Bezos owns, on how Saudi Arabia might have been involved in the killing of Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“At a time when Saudi Arabia was supposedly investigating the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post,” said Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression.

The U.N. statement expressed concern not only about Saudi surveillance practices but also about a controversial Israeli firm, the NSO Group, that may have developed the malicious software to infiltrate the Amazon CEOs phone. The firm is already embroiled in a court battle with WhatsApp over an alleged cyberattack on its users.

A Saudi dissident also has filed a suit against NSO Group, saying it helped the Saudis carry out surveillance of Khashoggi prior to his October 2018 killing.

“This reported surveillance of Mr. Bezos, allegedly through software developed and marketed by a private company and transferred to a government without judicial control of its use, is, if true, a concrete example of the harms that result from the unconstrained marketing, sale and use of spyware,” the U.N. experts said.

According to a technical report from the U.N., Bezos and bin Salman exchanged phone numbers connected to WhatsApp accounts in April of 2018, after Khashoggi had published several columns critical of the Saudi government.

The next month, the crown princes account sent an encrypted video file to Bezos that could have been the vehicle for installing malicious code on Bezos phone. Afterward, according the analysis, a massive amount of data transferred out of his phone.

The hack occurred around the same time that numerous other activists critical of the Saudi royal family had their phones hacked, according to the U.N. report.

Weeks after the hack, an online campaign emerged in Saudi Arabia that called for boycotting Amazon because of Bezos ownership of the Post. Additionally, in early 2019, the National Enquirer reported that Bezos was having an affair with Lauren Sanchez and published photos of the two together. Afterward, Bezos personal security consultant accused the Saudis of infiltrating the Amazon CEOs phone.

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