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Cyber Experts Explain Why Reports About Saudi Arabia’s Hacking Of Bezos Are ‘Not Very Strong’

(Photo: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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  • Cyber experts said analysis showing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hacked billionaire tech CEO Jeff Bezos has glaring problems. 
  • Rep. Ron Wyden of Oregon is also asking Bezos for proof that bin Salman personally hacked his iPhone. 
  • Bezos suggested in a 2019 blog post that The Washington Post’s coverage of the Jamal Khashoggi killing was ultimately what prompted Saudi Arabia’s attack.

Cyber experts said a report suggesting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally hacked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is “not very strong” and offers only circumstantial evidence supporting its conclusion.

Former Facebook executive Alex Stamos and cyber security expert Robert Graham argued Wednesday that the report contains glaring issues. United Nations experts are meanwhile asking investigators to open a probe into bin Salman’s alleged attack on the world’s wealthiest tycoon.

“This FTI forensics report is not very strong. Lots of odd circumstantial evidence, for sure, but no smoking gun,” Stamos said in a tweet.

FTI Consulting, a business advisory group, conducted an analysis of Bezos’s iPhone in November 2019 and concluded with “medium to high confidence” that bin Salman was involved. Bezos reportedly commissioned the analysis.

Stamos works as an analyst at the Stanford Internet Observatory and researches how disinformation permeates the cybersphere and what tech companies can do about it. (RELATED: Former Facebook Exec Explains Why Media Are Botching Coverage Of Company’s Settlement)

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France in this June 24, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France in this June 24, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

Stamos noted that the report, published in its entirety Wednesday by Vice News, contains a potential roadmap for researchers.

“The funny thing is that it looks like FTI potentially has the murder weapon sitting right there, they just haven’t figured out how to test it,” he said.

“Anyway, the idea that this report is the furthest you can go with access to the phone is wrong,” Stamos concluded before detailing why FTI fell short of proving the allegations. “[S]ince this is a major national security issue now more eyes need to be on the evidence.”

Graham made similar observations.

“I read the report. I see nothing here that suggests Bezo’s phone was hacked. It contains much that says ‘anomalies we don’t understand’, but lack of explanations point to incomplete forensics, not malicious APT actors,” he told his Twitter followers Wednesday.

FTI’s analysis noted that an “unprecedented exfiltration of data” from Bezos’s phone began hours after the bin Salman, commonly known as MBS, sent a giant file to the Amazon CEO’s iPhone.

“Data spiking then continued undetected over some months and at rates as much as 106,032,045 per cent (4.6 GB),” FTI noted.

Graham suggested there might be a simpler explanation.

“It uses phrases like ‘unauthorized exfiltration’ to mean ‘outgoing data we can’t explain’. This is bad for such a report, really bad,” he tweeted, adding: “Nothing in the analysis justifies that conclusion. It could be just ‘outgoing data.'”

Lawmakers are asking Bezos to go a step further. Rep. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, wrote a letter Wednesday to the tech billionaire asking him for more information regarding the report. In particular, he asked Bezos to produce granular details showing malware from MBS was irrefutably responsible for the alleged hacks.

FTI’s analysis came after a tumultuous year for Bezos. He divorced his wife in January 2019 and lost a lucrative cloud-computing contract with the federal government in October. Bezos has also found his ownership of The Washington Post complicating his other business interests.

Bezos, a media tycoon who purchased WaPo in 2013, suggested in a February 2019 blog post that his outlet’s coverage of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi as a potential reason for why Saudi Arabia would target him. Bezos and MBS exchanged cellphone numbers while the crown prince was visiting Los Angeles to meet with tech executives, the report noted.

Amazon has not responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s repeated requests for comment.

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