Candid pictures used to threaten Amazon boss Jeff Bezos were exposed not by his current parmour's brother, as some have suggested, but through a sophisticated hacking operation personally directed by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, The Guardian has asserted.
The encrypted message from the number used by Mohammed bin Salman is believed to have included a malicious file that infiltrated the phone of the world's richest man, according to the results of a digital forensic analysis. That file was likely infected with malware, and in a matter of hours large amounts of data were extracted from Bezos's phone. Their suspicion of state-level spycraft was then reinforced when the National Enquirer threatened to publish compromising pictures of Bezos also taken from his phone.
Secondly, it will further increase discomfort with bin Salman and Saudi Arabia within U.S. business circles and may see the kingdom cut out of deals altogether: the personal targeting and leaking of compromising information on a potential business partner is not the sort of thing that USA business leaders look favorably on.
The discovery may help to explain (or at least raise questions about) how the National Enquirer received intimate photos of Jeff Bezos and a mistress that contributed to the breakup of his marriage.
Khashoggi, a columnist at the Bezos-owned Post, was critical of the Saudi regime and allied himself with an organization funded by Qatar, Saudi Arabia's rival in the Persian Gulf. However, the prince is suspected of involvement in the murder of Khashoggi, which occurred at the Saudi embassy in Turkey. In December, a Saudi court convicted eight people of involvement in the murder after a secret trial that was criticised as a sham by human rights experts.
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Bezos's head of security, Gavin de Becker, wrote in the Daily Beast last March he had provided details of his investigation to law enforcement officials, but did not publicly reveal any information on how the Saudis accessed the phone.
De Becker noted that David Pecker, the AMI executive behind the Enquirer, and the crown prince have a friendly relationship.
Representatives for Bezos and the Saudi Arabian government did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
The Guardian report notes that Bezos and the crown prince had been enjoying an apparently innocuous WhatsApp conversation prior to the file being sent, which comes as little surprise since the royal figure has long cultivated relationships with the Silicon Valley elite.