U.N. Urges Probe Of Reported Hacking Of Jeff Bezos' Phone By Saudi Arabia
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Jeff Bezos is founder and CEO of Amazon, one of the most valuable tech companies in the world. He's also the owner of The Washington Post. He is the world's richest person. And yet his phone is still got hacked. A new report accuses Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of being behind that hack. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond has the story. And we should note, Amazon is among NPR's financial supporters.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: In 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent a WhatsApp message to Jeff Bezos. That message unleashed spyware into the Amazon CEO's phone. That's according to a forensic investigation of the phone, commissioned by Bezos. David Kaye reviewed the report. He's the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression.
DAVID KAYE: They had medium to high confidence that malware compromised the account of Jeff Bezos and that that malware was sent from a WhatsApp account that belonged to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
BOND: Kaye and another U.N. human rights expert link the phone hacking to the Saudi regime's efforts to stifle critical reporting about Saudi Arabia by The Washington Post, which Bezos owns. In April 2018, Bezos met the crown prince at a dinner in Los Angeles and exchanged phone numbers. A month later, the CEO received an encrypted video in a WhatsApp message from the prince's account. Hours after receiving the video, Bezos' phone started sending out large amounts of data, according to the forensic report.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia called the report absurd and denied it was responsible for hacking Bezos' phone. But the U.N.'s Kaye says the report raises grave concerns.
KAYE: The nature of the allegations and everything put together is, you know, certainly enough to raise these kinds of concerns and demand a response, you know, by the Saudis and independent investigation.
BOND: Five months after Bezos' phone was hacked, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the Saudi regime, was murdered. His death has been linked to the crown prince. Saudi Arabia has been accused of using digital spyware to go after critics.
MIKE CHAPPLE: So the attack against Jeff Bezos is consistent with a pattern of high-tech surveillance efforts that were waged in support of Saudi interests.
BOND: Mike Chapple is a former computer scientist at the National Security Agency who now teaches at the University of Notre Dame. In November, two former Twitter employees were charged by U.S. prosecutors with spying on dissidents' accounts for the Saudi government. Chapple and other security experts caution that the public needs more information to understand exactly what happened to Jeff Bezos. Meanwhile, Bezos himself has not commented on the latest twist in the hacking saga. On Wednesday, he tweeted a picture of himself at a memorial for Jamal Khashoggi with the hashtag Jamal.
Shannon Bond, NPR News, San Francisco.
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