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Becky Peterson/Business Insider
A bombshell UN report published Wednesday concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely hacked Jeff Bezos' phone in 2018.
The UN report, citing the opinion of security experts, indicates that Mohammed likely carried out the hack using technology from the NSO Group, a billion-dollar Israeli spyware startup. The report did say there's a possibility another company's tech was used, but said that was less likely.
A Business Insider photo reveals one of the devices NSO Group sells to its clients to carry out hacks.
NSO Group denied any involvement in hacking Bezos's phone, but the company has been accused of helping Saudi Arabia attack dissidents in the past.
A UN report published Wednesday places a secretive, billion-dollar Israeli spyware company at the center of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's possible hack of Jeff Bezos' personal phone.
The UN report said that Crown Prince Mohammed and Bezos exchanged messages on WhatsApp in spring 2018, before the account belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed sent Bezos what security experts believe was likely a malicious video file, after which Bezos' phone started transmitting a huge amount of data. The report's authors called for an "immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities."
As for the software used for the hack, UN investigators determined that "the most likely explanation for the anomalous data egress was use of mobile spyware such as NSO Group's Pegasus." It also offered what it believed was a less likely possibility, that the company Hacking Team's Galileo exploit could have been used.
The NSO Group is an Israeli spyware company valued at over a billion dollars that offers its clients "offensive-cyber capabilities." The group has previously been accused of helping Saudi Arabia and other countries attack dissidents and journalists, but has repeatedly denied those claims.
The NSO Group also denied the UN Report's allegations in a statement to Business Insider.
"As we stated unequivocally in April 2019 to the same false assertion, our technology was not used in this instance. We know this because of how our software works and our technology cannot be used on US phone numbers. Our products are only used to investigate terror and serious crime," an NSO Group spokesperson said.
Little is known about exactly how NSO Group's technology works. Sources familiar with the company told Business Insider in August that clients pay to use Pegasus, the firm's hacking tool, based on the number of people they want to target. The group offers a combination of hardware and software to carry out hacks.
The NSO group displayed a hacking device at the 2019 Milipol security conference in Paris, and Business Insider's Becky Peterson took a photo. Here's what it looks like:
Becky Peterson/Business Insider
The hardware was in a display that looked like a van. The display and the antennas suggest that the device is sold as a mobile interception device used to collect data while close to the target. The key to Pegasus is that it can be deployed remotely, far from its target.
It's not clear why NSO Group's software wouldn't work on US phone numbers as the company claimed, or whether that restriction is self-imposed by the company. It's also possible that NSO Group has developed a newer model or changed its hacking methods since displaying the device at Milipol.
Read more: Inside the billion-dollar Israeli spyware startup accused of helping Saudi Arabia attack dissidents are funding a web of new companies that hack into smart speakers, routers, and other devices
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