- A New York Times reporter who covers Saudi Arabia said he received an Arabic text message with a link to a suspicious website.
- Security experts determined that the hacking attempt was connected to Saudi Arabia, according to The New York Times.
- The attempted hack is similar to the one that affected Jeff Bezos that forensic investigators determined likely originated from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The UN has called for an investigation.
- The Saudi government has a well-documented history of retaliating against journalists who cover it critically, such as Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was killed by Saudi agents in 2018.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
A New York Times journalist said he has reason to believe he was targeted by Saudi Arabia in a new report published Tuesday.
Ben Hubbard, The Times’ Beirut bureau chief who has covered Saudi Arabia, received a suspicious text message in June 2018 that included a message in Arabic and a link to “arabnews365.com,” according to the report. After vetting the message with security experts, Hubbard determined that the link contained spyware and likely originated from Saudi Arabia.
Hubbard received the fishy text message a month after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly received a WhatsApp message from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that installed malicious spyware on his phone. UN experts said this month that they believed Crown Prince Mohammed was likely responsible for hacking Bezos and called for an investigation into the hack.
The Saudi government has repeatedly retaliated against journalists who cover it critically. The UN report suggested Crown Prince Mohammed likely targeted Bezos because Bezos owns The Washington Post. Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and columnist for The Washington Post, was killed in October 2018 in Istanbul by Saudi agents, and a CIA probe determined that the crown prince personally ordered the killing. The Washington Post was critical of the Saudi government in the aftermath of the attack.
Hubbard didn’t click on the link to arabnews365.com, and he said experts later determined that his phone wasn’t compromised. But Hubbard felt that the attempted hack was “no less scary in its implications.”
“This is yet another example of a journalist being targeted for doing their job. Efforts to intimidate journalists and potential sources should be of concern to everyone. We will stay focused on our mission to seek the truth and help people understand the world,” a Times spokesperson told Business Insider.
Experts from Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto determined that Hubbard was targeted with software built by the NSO Group, a secretive Israeli spyware firm. UN investigators similarly concluded that NSO Group “most likely” provided the technology used to hack Bezos.
An NSO Group spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The organization denied that its software was used to target Hubbard in a statement to The Times.