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LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph T. Gonzales (The Freeman) - January 26, 2020 - 12:00am

I knew it. WhatsApp keeps assuring us its line is secure, and encrypted “end-to-end”, and that we can have private messages within the platform. And yet we hear news that the WhasApp account of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos was hacked. Hacked! And by no less than a prince of Saudi Arabia!

Bezos commissioned forensic experts to check his phone (perhaps, he felt compelled to investigate after his relationship with a woman other than his wife had been leaked). And experts found (with medium to high confidence) that his phone had been compromised after he received a video file from Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

All right, so it’s not 100% certain, but the disclosure of this investigation is probably proof it’s statistically closer to a hundred than not. This wasn’t a cyber-investigation led by the FBI or CIA --this sleuthing was privately funded. So for Bezos’ team to have had the courage to release this report meant they had enough faith in the results. Otherwise, that would be courting a lawsuit from the prince. Or jihadists from Arabia.

They probably are still courting a lawsuit, but I assume Bezos has enough resources, even post-divorce, to fight a long drawn-out battle that could last until after his death (after which, all his assets will have mysteriously disappeared into the cyber cloud, untraceable except for more malware that could have been planted by more princes).

What did that video contain? None of the news reports I’ve read delved into its contents. Curious, right? What exactly would a prince share with a billionaire? What would be enough to tempt Bezos into opening it? That’s where investigative journalism should’ve been deployed.

I can imagine Mohammad prefacing the video with a text message like: “Hey Jeff, here’s a video of that hot filly we just saw prancing around the club!” (I’m referring to racehorses, silly). Or, “hey Jeff, here’s a CCTV clip of you and your entourage in the guest bedroom when I hosted you in Paris” (only alarming if serious partying had occurred.).

My imagination fails me. Or actually, I have plenty of imagination, it’s just not wise to share it here. Whatever that video contained, Bezos must have streamed it in, and his phone started transmitting ginormous amounts of data. The experts peg the outward traffic at 29,000% higher than normal. So everything in that phone had probably been beamed out.

What could have been inside? Aside from conversations with his then-wife and his then-paramour, family chat groups, and office secrets, what else did Bezos’ phone have? Bank information? (Uh-oh). Company secrets? Amazon’s plans to crush the competition and dominate the world? Jeff’s secret thoughts about Jack Ma and Pony Ma?

Maybe it contained his ruminations about Trump. Lofty declarations of how The Washington Post would keep on trying to keep democracy lit (hopefully not mixed with secret fantasies about porn actresses, the way my high school batchmates have remained silly boys even as adults).

We had better start deleting conversations and files. Best to be prepared for an eventual hack. That’s the way the world works now. Thievery is committed by targeting smartphones, not by snatching handbags.

My 12-year-old niece in Singapore shared a meme about a man who announced a hold-up, and asked the poor kid to give up her money. The kid dissolves into laughter, since in her world --who carries physical cash?

At least my niece looks like she can survive the digital future. Bezos, an architect of this very world, just took a tumble (time to delete WhatsApp?).

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