Bezos case exposes billionaires' vulnerability to hackers

Monday, February 11, 2019

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NEW YORK, United States (AFP) — The stunning revelation that a tabloid obtained below-the-belt selfies of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — the world's richest man — suggests that even billionaires are not out of the reach of hackers.

Bezos came out fighting last week, accusing the National Enquirer of blackmailing him with lurid pictures of him and his mistress, and pre-empting the threat to publish by releasing details of the images himself.

But for Mark Johnson, CEO of Sovereign Intelligence, the incident makes clear that “no one is beyond the reach of cyber exploitation”.

“It's a curious irony that billionaires demonstrate astounding acumen related to their own industries, and yet seemingly ignore the minutiae of commonplace security measures.”

Johnson sees billionaires and top executives as especially vulnerable because their personal information is a gold mine for criminals, intelligence agencies and competitors.

“Obtaining their personal data is like having keys to the kingdom,” Johnson said, potentially providing priceless insight into the thinking and strategies of the world's most powerful business leaders.

Ian Bremmer, founder of the Eurasia Group think tank, put it more bluntly.

“If the National Enquirer has @JeffBezos dick pics, don't tell me China doesn't have @Amazon IP and strategy,” he tweeted.

Since the revelations about Bezos, whose fortune is estimated at more than US$130 billion, computer security experts interviewed by AFP report an increase in calls from wealthy clients asking them to verify that their computer systems and devices were not hacked.

“Today's threats however are not necessarily trying to breach the walls of the castle — they are already inside, residing on personal devices,” said Kris Coleman, the founder of Red Five Security. “Experience has shown that the typical breach is not discovered for eight months.”

In this ever-more connected age, more and more personal data is stored online — from social security numbers to bank details, driver's licence numbers, and personal addresses.

As a result focus and security measures for the ultra-wealthy have shifted from bodyguards and sophisticated alarms towards risk management to protect their assets, their image, and their “legacy”.

The super-wealthy will typically have their own computer security service and also call on external companies for regular evaluation of their devices, because a large number of hacks are detected by third parties, according to observers.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, spent US$7.3 million on his security in 2017, up from US$4.2 million in 2015 — astronomical sums that the social network deemed justified due to his prominence.

Last July, Facebooksaid it would give him US$10 million more per year to strengthen his security.

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