United Kingdom

Was Boris Johnson's phone hacked by Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman

Boris Johnson was ‘bombarded’ with ‘emoji-laden’ WhatsApp messages by controversial Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman, sparking fears that the Prime Minister’s phone has been hacked.

The Arab state is at the centre of an international storm over allegations that billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s phone was compromised after he opened a file sent by the Crown Prince’s account on the messaging app.

Mr Bezos owns the Washington Post that published articles by journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered by the Saudi regime in 2018.

Boris Johnson and Prince Mohammed bin Salman meet in Saudi Arabia in December 2016

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pictured before attending a meeting at Downing Street in 2018 

Now The Mail on Sunday can reveal Mr Johnson has been in regular contact with Bin Salman on WhatsApp after the pair swapped numbers when he was Foreign Secretary. 

And the Crown Prince’s endless use of emojis has baffled Mr Johnson and his team.

Security sources said the level of contact with Mr Johnson was ‘worrying’, and the current relations with Saudi Arabia were being ‘tested’ severely by Bin Salman’s behaviour.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman poses with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos during the tycoon's visit to Riyadh in November 2016

Last night Downing Street refused to comment on whether Mr Johnson had received videos and pictures from Bin Salman on the app. 

Cyber-crime experts say opening such files would be ‘like giving a burglar the keys to your home’ and could allow hackers access to data, photographs and contacts.

Officials also refused to say if Mr Johnson’s phone had been checked by security services, but sources said all appropriate action had been taken to protect the device.

The Saudi kingdom has strenuously denied that Bin Salman was involved in hacking Mr Bezos, with Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud slamming the allegations as ‘absurd’.

Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir in Brussels earlier this week

The report further pointed to messages later sent from the prince's WhatsApp account to Bezos that showed 'apparent awareness' of private information. One included a meme with a photo of a woman the report said resembled the woman Bezos was having an extramarital relationship with before going public with his divorce

The Saudi Crown Prince and Mr Bezos exchanged phone numbers in spring 2018, with Bin Salman allegedly sending a WhatsApp video containing imagery of Swedish and Saudi Arabian flags draped over one another with Arabic lettering written across them.

Mr Bezos’s security guards say the video was the ‘Trojan horse’ that hacked the billionaire’s phone. He would later be embarrassed when details of an extramarital affair leaked to an American magazine.

Experts said last night it was possible to hack into phones through corrupted WhatsApp messages. Brian Lord, former deputy director for cyber operations at GCHQ, said: ‘An emoji on its own is not big enough to contain a virus, it has to be something that has to be opened. It has to be something that the user clicks on, like a video or a picture or sound file which contains a virus or malware that can then run in the background of the device.

‘The malware is a bit like opening a back door and once that door is open the hacker can keep going in and out again remotely. It would be like a burglar having your house keys and sneaking in and out of your house stealing from you without you knowing.’