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It was recently revealed that Jeff Bezos’ iPhone was reportedly hacked, but how? 

The tech tycoon received a seemingly innocent message believed to have originated from Saudi Arabia, said U.N experts and published reports. A video file contained sophisticated malware that gave attackers access to files on Bezos’ smartphone. The country disputes the claims.

While it’s no surprise why bad actors would want to target or exploit the richest man in the world, it’s not as if the same type of hack can’t happen to you. 

In fact, apps like WhatsApp and various operating systems are rife with vulnerabilities that allow hackers to inject spyware, intercept messages, alter attachments and crash the app for all members of a group chat, cybersecurity researchers have discovered over the past year. 

In the Amazon CEO’s case, the exact type of malware used during the 2018 hack remains shrouded in mystery. However, it’s clear that attackers were able to access his entire phone including photos and private communications, the New York Times notes.

Within hours of receiving an encrypted video file, there was a spike in data exiting Bezos’ phone, according to U.N. experts.

“The amount of data being transmitted out of Bezos’ phone changed dramatically after receiving the WhatsApp video file and never returned to baseline,” U.N. experts said Wednesday in a report published by Vice’s Motherboard. 

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Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, was later at the center of a scandal involving the National Enquirer, which threatened to release his private photos revealing a relationship with another woman while still married. His relationship with Saudi Arabia took a turn south after a journalist who reported for the Washington Post was murdered after criticizing Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  

 (Photo: WhatsApp)

Still, you don’t have to be a high powered public figure to be hacked, as a 2019 WhatsApp breach demonstrated.  

Facebook’s messaging app issued a security advisory admitting a cyber threat targeted a “select number” of users. A loophole in WhatsApp’s code was patched and Facebook urged users to update the app, which is used by over 1.5 billion people.

Researchers at the security firm Symantec found another WhatsApp flaw last year that left users open to “Media File Jacking.” When abused, hackers could intercept and alter your photos, videos and sensitive documents before the receiver sees the incoming message. 

In December, researchers at Check Point identified a vulnerability that would let hackers crash group chats of ordinary people.

Messaging apps are a top pick for hackers because they can be installed on many types of devices including tablets, smartwatches, laptops and PC, giving cybercriminals access to loads of user data that can be bought, resold and exploited. 

“Messaging apps are our main communication interface today,” said Oded Vanunu, a leading vulnerability researcher at Check Point. Over the past two years, “there’s been a big race from bad actors to find vulnerabilities on these applications so they can sell it on the internet.”

WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger bugs sell for up to a million dollars, Vanunu said. Online businesses that buy the vulnerabilities from hackers hope to sell knowledge of bugs to governments and corporations. 

“We are all targets. You don’t have to be famous,” said Adam Levin, a cybersecurity expert who launched an identity protection agency.  “For hackers, you could be a tributary to a larger river. They’re looking at you as a way to get to somebody you work for, someone in your family or some organization in your network.”

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Hacks take many forms, but there some things you can do to thwart smartphone hacking attempts. 

How to keep hackers out your smartphone

Be sure to only install official updates. Last July, millions of Android phones were reportedly infected with malware through a fake Samsung app. 

Use secure passwords. Ring security cameras were recently hacked and short, easy-to-guess passwords may have been to blame. Two-factor authentication is also a good idea. 

Run anti-virus software on your smartphone. These apps protect your device from viruses and other malware, and premium services lock down your privacy settings and scan apps and files for security threats. 

Exercise caution. Don’t open sketchy links sent to you via text or email. Don’t answer suspicious phone calls. 

Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin Brown

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