Israeli Cyberattack Firm NSO May Have Helped Saudis Hack Jeff Bezos' Phone, UN Experts Say

Saudi officials dismiss the allegations as absurd ■ NSO denies claims: 'We can say unequivocally that our technology was not used'

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Israeli NSO Group company on a building where they had offices in Herzliya, Israel, August 25, 2016.
Israeli NSO Group company on a building where they had offices in Herzliya, Israel, August 25, 2016. Credit: Daniella Cheslow,AP

Israeli cyberattack firm NSO and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have been involved in a plot to hack the phone of Amazon's billionaire boss Jeff Bezos, United Nations experts said on Wednesday.

The UN special rapporteurs, Agnes Callamard and David Kaye, said they had information pointing to the "possible involvement" of the prince and the Israeli spyware company in the alleged 2018 cyberattack. Saudi officials have dismissed the allegations as absurd.

NSO denied the suggestion in a statement, asserting that it could "say unequivocally that our technology was not used in this instance," and that the claims "highlight the need for the surveillance community to follow our lead and implement strict Human Rights Policies and to act in a compliant manner."

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Cybersecurity experts hired by Bezos, the world's richest man, concluded his phone was probably infiltrated by a video file sent from a WhatsApp account purportedly belonging to Prince Mohammed in 2018, according to a person familiar with the matter.

They said the device began leaking massive amounts of data about a month afterwards, the source said.

Callamard, the special rapporteur for extra-judicial killings, and Kaye, special rapporteur for free expression, said the allegation of Saudi involvement "demands immediate investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities".

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud dismissed the allegations on Wednesday.

"I think 'absurd' is exactly the right word," he told Reuters in an interview in Davos. "The idea that the crown prince would hack Jeff Bezos' phone is absolutely silly."

The allegations could nonetheless further damage relations between tech tycoon Bezos and Riyadh, and risk harming the kingdom's reputation with foreign powers and investors.

The alleged cyberattack is said to have taken place months before the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the Saudi government and a columnist for the Bezos-owned Washington Post.

Prince Mohammed, or MbS, said last year that the killing was carried out by rogue operatives and that he did not order it.

In another previous flashpoint, Bezos' security chief said last year that the Saudi government had gained access to the Amazon CEO's phone and leaked messages to U.S. tabloid the National Enquirer between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor who the newspaper said he was dating.

A month before, Bezos had accused the newspaper's owner of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing "intimate photos" he allegedly sent to Sanchez.

The Saudi government has denied having anything to do with the National Enquirer reporting.

The Guardian first reported the crown prince's alleged involvement in a phone hacking plot on Bezos.

Saudi Arabia's U.S. embassy also dismissed the allegations.
"We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out," it said in a message posted on Twitter.

Amazon declined to comment.

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