Facebook says Apple, not WhatsApp, should be blamed for Saudi hack of Bezos' phone

Facebook says Apple, not WhatsApp, should be blamed for Saudi hack of Bezos' phone
Last week, we passed along the frightening story of how Saudi Arabia was able to hack the Apple iPhone X belonging to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, one of the richest men in the world. Why would such a terrible act be done? One theory is that the Bezos-owned Washington Post was investigating the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a WaPo columnist who was allegedly killed under the direction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Perhaps the Saudi's were snooping around the billionaire's phone for dirt to blackmail him with so it could demand that the newspaper drop the investigation.

The scariest part of the whole hack was that the malware was coded into a 4.22MB video clip sent to Bezos through WhatsApp in 2018 by an account owned by the crown prince. The malware was designed to allow the Saudis to access all files on Bezos' phone even if the video was never played, and that alone might keep you up nights. While some put the blame on Facebook for whatever WhatsApp vulnerability allowed the hack to occur, Bloomberg reports that Facebook vice president Nicola Mendelsohn doesn't agree. Keep in mind that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook; the latter closed on its $21.8 billion acquisition of the messaging app in October 2014.

Facebook tries to deflect from any responsibility WhatsApp might have had in the hacking of Bezos' iPhone X


Last February, Bezo's security advisor hired a firm called FTI Consulting and part of the latter's report says that hours after Bezos' WhatsApp account received the video message, "a massive and unauthorized exfiltration of data from Bezos’s phone began." The report from FTI noted that the amount of data transmitted out of Bezos' phone soared 29,000% immediately after the malware was received.


Last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mendelsohn placed the blame for the hack on smartphone operating systems. She told a Bloomberg Television audience that "One of the things that it highlights is actually some of the potential underlying vulnerabilities that exist on the actual operating systems on phones." And while the executive said that Facebook would take seriously any allegations that WhatsApp was used to hack Bezos' account, she added that Facebook couldn't comment on an individual story.

Facebook's top policy official Nick Clegg repeated the company line to the BBC when he said, "It sounds like something on the, you know, what they call the operating, the operating, the phone itself. It can't have been, it can't have been anything on the, when the message was sent in transit, because that's end-to-end encrypted on WhatsApp." Clegg tried to get focused and when he did, the Facebook employee continued to move the blame away from WhatsApp. "It's a bit like if someone sends you a malicious email, it only comes to life when you open it," he stated. "I suspect it must have been something like that, so something would have affected the phone operating system."

But when it comes to WhatsApp's end to end encryption, the only thing that it did, according to FTI Consulting's report, was delay further study of the malicious code sent to Bezos. Meanwhile, Apple has refused to comment on the hack of Jeff Bezos' phone.

Last November, WhatsApp sued spyware maker NSO Group accusing the Israeli firm of delivering surveillance software to some WhatsApp users without their knowledge. Facebook said that NSO Group used a vulnerability in the messaging app (since patched) to infect the phone of certain WhatsApp users. NSO Group has denied these allegations and promised to "vigorously fight them" in court.

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13 Comments

5. Subie

Posts: 2467; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

First and foremost the blame should be put on the hackers! In this case the Saudis. If someone breaks a window in a home, proceeds to enter and rob the the home owner of their property, no one blames the glass manufacturer...

6. Angst

Posts: 40; Member since: Apr 29, 2014

But they do if the Window was Bullet proof and unbreakable glass that was sold to them. Yes you go after the robber then you go after the manufacturer for selling you a product that was touted for something it clearly wasn't

11. Subie

Posts: 2467; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

No glass window is sold as absolutely impenetrable by any means and who says a criminal will only try using a bullet. No OS or software is completely hack proof either nor are these companies claiming any absolutes in this regard. If you need proof that these companies don't believe their software is "bulletproof" just look at the constant security updates they put out for their products. There are always holes to close.

13. mackan84

Posts: 716; Member since: Feb 13, 2014

it’s more in the line that you buy a house that is bulletproof without windows, and you decide to get windows and the burglar breaks in through the windows. Blame the house or the windows?

1. jellmoo

Posts: 2699; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

Am I the only one surprised that the richest man in the world is using a two and a half year old phone?

2. ahmadkun

Posts: 711; Member since: May 02, 2016

actually they don't care, they have a lot of things more important in their life

7. mixedfish

Posts: 1574; Member since: Nov 17, 2013

Only poor people think having the latest phone means anything.

9. midan

Posts: 3272; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

i don't know if he cares or not, but currently he is using 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max

3. RoryBreaker

Posts: 323; Member since: Oct 11, 2015

In 2018 the iphone x was still apple's latest device.

4. palmguy

Posts: 991; Member since: Mar 22, 2011

And the other people finance their brand new phones yearly.

8. midan

Posts: 3272; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

This happened 2018, now he actually uses 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max

12. LRSousa

Posts: 44; Member since: Jun 20, 2014

Well... In 2018 iPhone X was "new". Did you read the text?

14. Vancetastic

Posts: 1967; Member since: May 17, 2017

It happened in 2018. Also, you don't get rich by needlessly spending money.

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