Anom. How the secret services created an encrypted messenger and listened to criminals for years

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The FBI, Europol and the intelligence services of other countries have reported on the results of the large-scale operation Trojan Shield (aka Greenlight and Ironside), as a result of which more than 800 arrests have already been made. Law enforcers created and maintained their own encrypted communications platform Anom for several years, similar to Encrochat and Phantom Secure, and monitored all correspondence of the criminals.

Trojan Shield

Law enforcement agencies of almost twenty countries of the world, including the FBI and  Europol, reported on the results of the large-scale special operation Trojan Shield (in other departments, the operation was called Greenlight and Ironside).

According to Europol, Australia, Austria, Great Britain, Hungary, Germany, Denmark, Canada, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, USA, Finland, Sweden, Scotland and Estonia took part in the operation. At the same time, in their statement, the Australian police thanked colleagues from eighteen countries for participating in the operation, but did not specify which ones.

As it turned out, law enforcement officers created and maintained for several years their own platform for encrypted communications Anom (aka An0m or Anøm – in the reports of different departments the name “sounds” differently), similar to Encrochat and Phantom Secure. This means of communication has gained immense popularity among criminals all over the world, thanks to which law enforcement officers have been able to monitor all their communications.

Anom. How the secret services created an encrypted messenger and listened to criminals for years

Background

We have talked more than once about such secure communication platforms that are used in the criminal environment and naturally attract the attention of law enforcement agencies. For example, in 2020, European law enforcement authorities eliminated the encrypted communications platform Encrochat, which was used by more than 60 thousand criminals around the world.

Encrochat phones guaranteed their users absolute anonymity, since they did not have a device or SIM card tied to the customer’s account and were purchased under conditions that ensure that it is impossible to trace their origin. Complete confidentiality was also guaranteed: the encrypted interface was reliably hidden, and the device itself was modified – the camera, microphone, GPS module and USB port were physically missing.

Such devices came with two operating systems at once: if the user wanted the device to look harmless, he loaded regular Android. If it was necessary to use secret chats, the user switched to the Encrochat system. According to media reports, the Encrochat phones were built around modified BQ Aquaris X2 – Android smartphones released in 2018 by a Spanish electronics company.

The operators of the Encrochat platform installed their own encrypted messaging and VoIP calling programs on their phones, and they routed traffic through the company’s own servers. Also, the phones had the function of quick and complete zeroing of the device if the user entered a special PIN-code.

The company sold these phones by subscription: a six-month contract cost around £ 1,500.

As a result, the Encrochat compromise led to the arrest of 746 people, the seizure of £ 54 million in cash ($ 67.4 million), 77 firearms (machine guns, pistols, four grenades and more than 1,800 rounds of ammunition), 55 expensive cars and more than two tons of drugs.

In the Netherlands alone, the closure of Encrochat allowed multiple arrests, the dismantling of 19 methamphetamine laboratories, and the seizure of 1,200 kilograms of methamphetamine and more than 10 tons of cocaine. Also, law enforcement officers on-the outside-whether in a village near the border with Belgium, macabre cargo containers, converted to prisons and torture chambers (soundproofed, dental chair, handcuffs, scalpels and other tools).

Two years earlier, in 2018, Vincent Ramos, CEO of Phantom Secure, which also produced “unbreakable” phones for criminals, was arrested.

Phantom Secure hosted its servers in Panama and Hong Kong and used virtual proxies to hide their physical location. The platform also helped to remotely destroy data on devices already seized by law enforcement agencies.

A subscription to the Phantom Secure service cost about 2-3 thousand dollars for six months. To protect the anonymity of customers and the activities of Phantom Secure itself, transactions were made in digital currencies, including bitcoins. For this money, a person received a device where both software and hardware were modified in such a way as to ensure anonymity and encryption of all communications. GPS navigation, microphone, camera, internet access and instant messenger, and even voice transmission technology – everything was done taking into account the special needs of customers.

Phantom phones have enjoyed great popularity in the underworld, including at the very top of transnational criminal gangs. In particular, members of the famous Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico were customers of Phantom Secure.

Another similar company – MPC created and controlled-familiarize organized criminal group from Scotland, associated with drug trafficking.

Anom

Soon after Vincent Ramos was arrested in 2018, an unnamed insider who previously sold Phantom and Sky Global phones agreed to partner with law enforcement officers in the hope of a mitigation of the sentence and helped them create their own encrypted communications product called Anom. He soon suggested that the FBI and the Australian Federal Police should spread the devices more widely and use them in ongoing and new investigations, a concept that law enforcement officials found interesting.

Anom. How the secret services created an encrypted messenger and listened to criminals for years

Like Phantom Secure, the new service offered users secure smartphones that were configured to run exclusively the Anom app and nothing else. To get such a device, you had to know the other owner of Anom and get a kind of recommendation from him.

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