By private jet and by helicopter, the world's elite swooped back into Davos this week for three days of the usual blather, champagne and lazy hypocrisy over climate change.

This year there were a few conspicuous absences.It wasn't just Boris Johnson - an enthusiastic delegate in former years - who had ordered British ministers to steer a wide berth in a nod to working-class northern voters who might take a dim view of the Alpine spectacle.

Saudi crown prince implicated in hacking of Jeff Bezos' phone


Oddly enough, Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, and his former chum Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, were also maintaining a low profile.

For the organisers of the World Economic Forum that was probably a good thing.

Allegations that the Saudi prince had hacked into the Amazon founder's phone during a WhatsApp call in 2018 could have made for an embarrassing impromptu encounter on the steps of the space age Davos Congress Centre where the Swiss gabfest is held.

Although the full circumstances of how the hack played out are still emerging, it is beginning to look as if for Mr Bezos it was a humiliating, schoolboy error.

The incident probably says something about the undeserved reputation of WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, as a "secure", encrypted service - but it says even more about Bezos's remarkably lax attitude to his own cybersecurity.

A generation ago, tycoons with fortunes as big as his would have been advised to keep a close eye on their children - to protect them against the threat of kidnapping and extortion by criminals. For example, when John Paul Getty III was kidnapped by the 'Ndrangheta in Rome in 1973, his grandfather - the oil baron J Paul Getty - endured an agonising five-month wait before he agreed to fork out the US$2.2 million ransom, after an ear and a lock of his grandson's hair were sent in the post.

These days, it is cybersecurity that plays a similar role in posing an extortion threat to the world's elite. If accessed remotely, the data held on their smartphones, devices and apps potentially contains a treasure trove of compromising information on their business and personal relationships which they would be wise to protect at all costs.

So it appears to have been for Mr Bezos.


That is why, of all people, the world's most successful technology tycoon and owner of The Washington Post, a fierce critic of the Saudi regime and publisher of the late Jamal Khashoggi's columns, should really have known better.

The hack against him apparently came just a few weeks after he had met in person with Prince Mohammed during the Saudi royal's tour of the US.

The two multi-billionaires had exchanged phone numbers during a dinner and had later connected via WhatsApp. The hack had then apparently started, when an infected video file was sent from Prince Mohammed's personal account.

A few months later, Bezos and his wife MacKenzie made the surprise announcement via Twitter that they were set to separate after 25 years of marriage, following reports in the National Enquirer of an extramarital affair between Bezos and Lauren Sánchez, a former TV anchor.

The reports of the affair were supported by intimate text messages which had been sent by the couple.

If the founder of one of the world's biggest technology firms can be hacked in this way, what does it say about the vulnerability of ordinary people like you and me?

Perhaps more importantly, if Amazon's founder can so easily fall prey to such skulduggery, how readily should we accept the company's frequent assurances about the security of its own products and services?

This matters, above all, because of the unique role Amazon plays in protecting the world's data.

Amazon Web Services - Amazon's cloud computing arm - is the biggest landlord in cyberspace.

Its servers scattered across the globe hold oodles of the most sensitive data on behalf of the CIA, NHS, Home Office, the police and hundreds of the biggest companies.

Amazon claims its state of the art security and system design ensures all this is totally safe from cyberattack.

How readily should we believe them now?

There is another dimension to this scandal. After all, Bezos wasn't the only tech tycoon Prince Mohammed met during his extended trip to the US.

Tim Cook, the chief executive officer of Apple, Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin as well as investor Peter Thiel all held talks with the prince.

I'd be surprised if they, and others like them in Davos this week, haven't been busy ordering their security teams to examine their phones for evidence of similar intrusions.