Was Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X Really Hacked Using a WhatsApp Message from the Saudi Crown Prince?
As per a report by the New York Times, Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X was hacked through a malicious video sent as a WhatsApp message, which allegedly resulted in his private photos and messages getting leaked. The message in question was sent by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, received a message from the Mohammad bin Salman on WhatsApp, which included a video with Saudi and Swedish flags and Arabic text. The video file size was 4.4MB, as per a forensic analysis that Bezos got done. As per the analysis report, the video file contained malware, which was executed when the video file was sent, and allowed the hackers full access to Bezos’ iPhone X. These messages and photos later made their way to National Enquirer, who used them to blackmail Bezos. Jeff Bezos’ post on Medium ‘No thank you, Mr. Pecker‘ as a result of this whole issue.
Perhaps the biggest revelation in this accusation that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia intended to intimidate Jeff Bezos by spying on him, and hired a cybersecurity company to use malware for this purpose. Even the United Nations has chimed in on this issue, based on the analysis. The New York Times shared this about the analysis:
The analysis essentially accused the Saudi prince of using malware created by a private cybersecurity company to spy on and to intimidate Mr. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. At the time of the hack, Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer, was employed at The Post, which has published coverage critical of the Saudi government. Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in late 2018.
The New York Times did not verify the details of the hack, and also pointed out the missing details in the forensic report. As expected, Saudi Arabic has denied the allegations and asked for an investigation into the matter.
The malware at the root of this hack was allegedly provided by NSO Group, located on Tel Aviv, Israel. They have been known to provide malware to various governments, who have used them against journalists and human rights activists. NSO Group denied any involvement in Jeff Bezos’ iPhone X hack.
If this story seems to have enough material to be used for a Hollywood movie, we are not done yet. There is a lot more.
Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife MacKenzie got divorced last year, after 30 years of marriage. The reason was said to be Jeff Bezos’ affair with Lauren Sanchez, while he was still married to MacKenzie. This is where things get more interesting as the very latest reports by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal say that the photos and messages were obtained by the National Enquirer through Lauren Sanchez’s brother Micheal Sanchez.
This is not the first time that news has come out that the messages were leaked by Lauren’s brother. The Daily Beast had reported last year that the messages were leaked to the National Enquirer by Michael. He had signed an NDA with American Media, owners of the National Enquirer, and sold them the messages and photos for $200,000. Through documentation and other evidence, American Media provided this information to security agencies for investigation.
The forensic report commissioned by Jeff Bezos becomes questionable after this revelation. The insinuation that Saudi Arabia hacked Bezos’ iPhone X to leak his photos and messages does not hold much weight anymore. However, there is more to the story.
David Pecker, the owner of America Media, who Bezos addressed in his Medium post too, reportedly had close ties with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman. National Enquirer already had prior knowledge of Jeff Bezos’ affair with Lauren Sanchez, before Micheal Sanchez sold them the photos and messages. Bezos also received a WhatsApp message from the Crown Prince in November 2018, with a misogynistic joke and a picture of a woman who looked like Lauren Sanchez, indicating that knowledge of his affair was also shared with the Crown Prince beforehand.
There is a lot to absorb from this on-going story. The forensic report, prepared by FTI Consulting, cannot be ignored, despite the fact that the photos and messages were sourced from Lauren’s brother and not via the hack. However, the forensic report also misses out a lot of important details such as steps to decrypt the video files. An iPhone hack via WhatsApp is unheard of, but considering that WhatsApp took NSO Group to court because of their security exploits, it is not impossible.