Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

If Jeff Bezos' phone can be hacked, anyone's can.

Driving the news: Reports emerged this week alleging that Jeff Bezos's iPhone was compromised in 2018 after the Amazon founder and Washington Post owner received a video file in a WhatsApp message sent by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salam (MBS). The news sent tremors through Washington and Silicon Valley.

What happened: According to a forensic report Bezos commissioned and that informed a statement from U.N. human rights officials, soon after Bezos received the message from MBS his phone began transmitting large quantities of data.

  • Months later, the billionaire's private messages and photos turned up in the hands of the National Enquirer, which then, according to a statement Bezos published, tried to blackmail him.
  • Saudi Arabia has denied any role in hacking Bezos' phone and disputes any involvement by MBS.

Of note: The hack came just months before the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose sharp criticisms of the Saudi government ran in Bezos' Washington Post. The CIA concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi's death.

  • Some security experts are questioning the thoroughness of the forensic report's work and its attribution of the attack to MBS, per CyberScoop.

Our thought bubble: Bezos isn't a clueless newbie — he's been online since Amazon opened its website 25 years ago.

  • It's not even clear from the forensic report whether he ever clicked on the video.

Background:

  • The 2014 Sony Pictures hack exposed the vulnerability of companies to having all their emails and files dumped on the open internet.
  • The 2016 hacks of the DNC and the Clinton campaign exposed the similar vulnerability of political organizations.
  • Now, it's dawning on executives, managers, and everyday people that, if the richest person on the planet — who is also a veteran technologist — can't protect himself and his data, everyone is vulnerable.

Between the lines: It's one thing to think of cyber-attacks as devious operations against factories and power plants or spammy barrages of suspicious come-ons. In the world the Bezos/MBS caper shows us, the most commonplace and mundane communications are becoming weaponized.

Yes, but: Most of us aren't billionaires and aren't receiving texts from Saudi princes. If we're not as important as Bezos, maybe we won't be targeted.

  • That thinking represents one version of what experts call "security through obscurity" — and it makes sense, up to a point.
  • The comfort it offers, though, is hardly reliable, and only applies while the tools for targeting individuals remain costly. Most software gets cheaper over time.

Winners: Nobody.

Losers:

  • WhatsApp, the service owned by Facebook. WhatsApp originated as a privacy-oriented, fully encrypted messaging channel, and it was initially embraced by activists and dissidents. But it's not looking very secure right now.
  • NSO Group, the Israel-based security firm whose Pegasus tool is cited by the forensic report as the most likely culprit in the Bezos hacking. Saudi Arabia is widely believed to have used NSO software to spy on Khashoggi and other critics, and Facebook has sued the company for its role in hacking hundreds of people's phones through WhatsApp. NSO, which has tried to pivot toward human rights over the last year, "unequivocally" denies its software played any role.
  • The Saudis, who may find a lot of their messages sitting unread in recipients' inboxes.
  • Friends of the Saudis, including Jared Kushner, who is widely reported to be WhatsApp pals with MBS, and President Trump, whose casual approach to smartphone security has troubled security experts going back to the administration's early days.

The bottom line: For business and government leaders realizing that their counterparts can hack their phones, it's not just their own data that's at risk. Everyone they communicate with needs to worry now, too — and the idea that it's even possible to have a private "high-level conversation" over the internet looks quaint.

Go deeper: The hack heard round the world (Pro Rata podcast)

Go deeper

26 mins ago - Health

239 scientists call on WHO to recognize coronavirus as airborne

People walk at the boardwalk in Venice Beach. Photo: Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images

A group of 239 scientists in 32 countries is calling for the World Health Organization to revise its recommendations to account for airborne transmission as a significant factor in how the coronavirus spreads, the New York Times reports.

The big picture: The WHO has said the virus mainly spreads via large respiratory droplets that fall to the ground once they've been discharged in coughs and sneezes. But the scientists say evidence shows the virus can spread from smaller particles that linger in air indoors.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 11,294,859 — Total deaths: 531,419 — Total recoveries — 6,078,552Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 2,839,917 — Total deaths: 129,676 — Total recoveries: 894,325 — Total tested: 34,858,427Map.
  3. States: Photos of America's pandemic July 4 ICU beds in Arizona hot spot near capacity.
  4. Public health: U.S. coronavirus infections hit record highs for 3 straight days.
  5. Politics: Trump extends PPP application deadlineKimberly Guilfoyle tests positive.
  6. World: Mexican leaders call for tighter border control as infections rise in U.S.
  7. Sports: 31 MLB players test positive as workouts resume.
  8. 1 📽 thing: Drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback.

Protesters toss Columbus statue into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Piazza in Little Italy on April 9, 2015 in Baltimore. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Protesters in Baltimore on Saturday toppled a statue of Christopher Columbus and tossed it into the city's Inner Harbor, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Why it matters: It's the latest monument toppled by demonstrators during the protests against racism and police brutality. Statues of Confederate soldiers and slave owners have been a flashpoint in the protests.