Computer & Internet

Saudi Hack of Bezos’ Phone Shines Bright Light on Security Challenges

A digital forensic evaluation carried out by Anthony Ferrante of enterprise advisory agency
concludes with “medium to excessive confidence” that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ smartphone was hacked by a malicious file despatched from the WhatsApp account of Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The malware was in an MP4 file connected to a WhatsApp message.

FTI Consulting forwarded its findings to United Nations particular rapporteurs who launched

Rapporteurs examine the promotion and safety of freedom of opinion and expression, amongst different issues.

FTI Consulting declined our request to remark for our story, stating that each one shopper work is confidential.

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in america has denied the allegations.

Component of Uncertainty

The explanation FTI certified its conclusion probably is as a result of “laptop forensics is not at all times an actual science, and the consultants is perhaps restricted by the information and proof they’ve in hand,” mentioned Tim Erlin, VP of product administration and technique at .

“There can also be unanswered questions or options to contemplate,” he advised TechNewsWorld.

FTI’s conclusion “suggests they’ve a sequence of occasions that makes it probably that the video attachment carried malware, however they both did not show causality or cannot make certain the crown prince created the hack versus his simply forwarding a compromised e mail,” instructed Rob Enderle, principal analyst on the .

“It not often will get stronger than this until the alleged perpetrator confesses, or the intelligence group will get entry to your complete chain of proof,” he advised TechNewsWorld.

The malware “seems to have had a self-destruct inbuilt, making it inconceivable to have 100% concrete proof,” famous Liz Miller, principal analyst at .

FTI’s investigators “didn’t discover even remnants of the malware code on the machine, however did discover a file with an encrypted downloader that had been delivered with the video,” she advised TechNewsWorld.

WhatsApp, which hosted the downloader, has end-to-end encryption, which prevents investigators from accessing the downloader’s contents or code, Miller identified.

Chain of Occasions

The prince
with Bezos on April 28, 2018, after they met at a dinner in Hollywood.

On Could 1 Bezos acquired a message with a video attachment from the prince’s WhatsApp account.

Inside hours, the quantity of information transmitted from Bezos’ cellphone skyrocketed by 30,000 %, FTI discovered. Knowledge spiking continued over a number of months, at fee as a lot as 106 million % larger than earlier than the video was acquired.

“How did it take months for this to be seen?” puzzled Constellation’s Miller.

FTI discovered that on two later events the prince despatched messages to Bezos that instructed he had data of his non-public communications:

  • One, on November 8, 2018, included a photograph of a girl strongly resembling Lauren Sanchez, whom Bezos was relationship;
  • The opposite was despatched February 16, 2019, two days after Bezos had participated in cellphone conversations in regards to the Saudis’ alleged on-line marketing campaign in opposition to him.

The UN particular rapporteurs have linked the hack of Bezos’ smartphone to tales in his newspaper, The Washington Submit, in regards to the position of the Saudi prince and the Saudi authorities within the homicide of Submit journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Pegasus Risk

“I am unable to keep in mind what number of instances up to now decade I’ve learn one thing a few essential safety flaw in WhatsApp that permits entry to customers’ telephones,” remarked Oliver Mnchow, founder of safety consciousness and coaching firm

“I am shocked nobody advised Jeff to not use it after its historical past of epic safety fails,” he advised TechNewsWorld.

The malware used was “probably cellular spyware and adware similar to NSO Group’s Pegasus, or, much less probably, Hacking Workforce’s Galileo,” FTI’s evaluation suggests.

The Saudi Royal Guard acquired Pegasus-3 spyware and adware from NSO Group, an Israel-based agency, FTI discovered. The spyware and adware additionally was used in opposition to Saudi dissidents.

Pegasus spreads by malicious hyperlinks “usually despatched by chat apps like WhatsApp and Messenger,” mentioned Paul Bischoff, privateness advocate at

“As soon as on a tool, the malware jailbreaks iPhones in order that it will possibly observe cellphone calls, texts, keystrokes and placement, and entry the cellphone’s microphone and digital camera. It additionally impacts Android telephones,” he advised TechNewsWorld.

Shoppers “should preserve a wholesome sense of paranoia in relation to hyperlinks and attachments,” mentioned Rosa Smothers, senior VP of cyber operations at

“Suppose earlier than you click on on any hyperlinks or attachments despatched to you,” she advised TechNewsWorld. “Have been you anticipating the e-mail or attachment? In case your spidey sense tingles, name the sender and ensure they despatched it.”

That mentioned, “safety at all times ranks excessive on surveys of the issues shoppers need, however nobody is ever keen to pay for it,” remarked Jim McGregor, principal analyst at . “Because of this, it is by no means a precedence.”

Security is also difficult as a result of of the speedy tempo of know-how, he advised TechNewsWorld. “Synthetic intelligence ought to ultimately enhance safety, however nothing will ever be 100% safe.”

Aftermath of the Hack

The UN rapporteurs have referred to as for an investigation into the hack and mentioned the use of WhatsApp as a platform to allow set up of Pegasus onto units has been effectively documented.

In the meantime, Fb and WhatsApp have
in a U.S. federal courtroom, and a courtroom in Israel
to find out whether or not the NSO Group ought to have its export license revoked.

NSO has denied allegations in opposition to it.

“If somebody with Bezos’ energy and place is a goal, it does not bode effectively for anybody who does not have that degree of safety,” Enderle noticed. “It makes you marvel what number of different U.S. residents are being spied on like this by a hostile state.”
Saudi Hack of Bezos' Phone Shines Bright Light on Security Challenges Bezos

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