A digital forensic analysis found that the encrypted message from Mohammed bin Salman's number is believed to have included a malicious file that infiltrated Bezos's phone.
It is "highly probable" that the intrusion was triggered by an infected video file sent from Salman's phone to Bezos.
The crown prince and the billionaire had been having a seemingly friendly conversation on WhatsApp when the file was sent on May 1 of 2018. Large amounts of data were taken from Bezos's phone within a matter of hours, according to a person familiar with the matter, but it is unknown what exactly was taken from the phone or how it was used.
The American tabloid the National Enquirer published intimate details about Bezos's private life, including text messages, nine months after the alleged hacking.
The infiltration into Bezos's phone also took place five months before the murder of Khashoggi, a journalist for the Washington Post, a newspaper owned by Bezos.
Digital forensic experts began examining Bezos's phone after the National Enquirer expose. The company that owns the National Enquirer claimed that they received the information from the estranged brother of Bezos's girlfriend.
The investigators found with "high confidence" that the Saudis had managed to "access" Bezos's phone and had "gained private information" about him.Iyad el-Baghdadi, an Arab activist and founder of the Kawaakibi Foundation, stated on his Twitter that the infiltration into Bezos's phone was carried out with Pegasus, a cyber weapon made by Israeli company NSO.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye’s stated in July that NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was a “paradigmatic example” of private surveillance products and their mobile device hacking capabilities.
An NSO spokesperson said the technology is designed to help save lives and to pursue terrorists possessing encryption capabilities.NSO Group’s technology was allegedly used by the Saudis to track down and murder journalist Jamal Khashoggi of The Washington Post. NSO CEO Shalev Hulio denied in February that Khashoggi was targeted by NSO products and technology.WhatsApp sued the NSO Group in October for allegedly building and selling a hacking platform that exploited a flaw in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the cellphones of at least 1,400 users. A “significant” portion of the known victims are high-profile government and military officials spread across at least 20 countries on five continents.Amnesty International has filed a request to revoke NSO's export license. The primary allegations against NSO are that its Pegasus software has been used by non-democratic governments to spy on journalists and dissidents, and that the Israeli Defense Ministry has failed to carry out proper oversight. This case was filed after Amnesty claimed that NSO’s software was used to spy on its officials by a foreign client of NSO.
Gavin de Becker, Bezos's head of security, wrote in the Daily Beast, that the Saudi crown prince (often referred to as MBS) had developed a "close relationship" with David Pecker, the chief executive of the company that owned the Enquirer, in the months before the expose was published.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur who investigates extrajudicial killings, has reviewed the findings of the forensic analysis of Bezos's phone, according to the Guardian.
The UN special rapporteur found "credible evidence" that the crown prince and other senior Saudi officials were responsible for the Khashoggi's murder. Callamard declined to comment to the Guardian on the alleged Bezos link.
Saudi dissidents and analysts told the Guardian that Bezos was probably targeted because of his ownership of the Washington Post and its coverage of Saudi Arabia.
"He probably believed that if he got something on Bezos it could shape coverage of Saudi Arabia in the Post," said Andrew Miller, a Middle East expert who served on the national security council under former president Barak Obama. "It is clear that the Saudis have no real boundaries or limits in terms of what they are prepared to do in order to protect and advance MBS, whether it is going after the head of one of the largest companies in the world or a dissident who is on their own."
John Brennan, the former CIA director and CIA station chief in Riyadh, told MSNBC, "I have no doubt, given the Post’s relentless and appropriate condemnation of MBS for the killing of Khashoggi, that he would try to discredit, embarrass and hurt Bezos financially if he could.”
A lawyer for Bezos told the Guardian, "I have no comment on this except to say that Mr Bezos is cooperating with investigations."