It is an operation worthy of the series The Wire. Hundreds of people have been arrested across the world in a massive organized crime crackdown initiated by Australian police. Suspected criminals believed they were protected by communicating with modified smartphones carrying encrypted messaging called AN0M, supposed to secure their exchanges. But it was actually a Trojan horse engineered by the FBI.
More than 200 people have been arrested in Australia in connection with the operation Ironside and hundreds more in over 20 countries. Europol is due to take stock on Tuesday at 10 am on the situation in Europe – AN0M seems to have been especially popular in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. The FBI should say more on what he called Operation Trojan Shield at 6 p.m. PST.
Network of influencers
It all started in 2018 with the dismantling of the Phantom Secure phones, which are very popular with drug dealers. The Australian police then had a brilliant idea: to ask the FBI to modify the platform to be able to spy on communications. It still remained to adopt the smartphones trapped in criminal circles.
Australian police used an informant to dispose of the first AN0M phones. Like the most popular apps in Silicon Valley, the system worked by invitation only: to buy a phone on the black market, you had to be recommended by another user. By attacking competing platforms like EncroChat, which was dismantled last year, the FBI has exploded the adoption of AN0M.
A total of 11,000 phones have been passed around the world, and Australian police and partners have been able to spy on all conversations. A modified phone could only send messages (text or voice) to another AN0N phone, take photos and shoot videos. Impossible to make a classic call to grandma or to go on the Internet to check her Gmail inbox. The FBI had set up intermediary servers. The communications were intercepted, decrypted and then re-encrypted before being delivered to the recipient.
Hundreds of arrests
These messages concerned in particular assassination projects and drug and arms trafficking, said Australian police who arrested 224 people in all parts of the country, even claiming to have foiled a mass shooting. New Zealand police have announced the arrest of 35 people, including drug trafficking and money laundering.
“These criminal influencers have put the Australian Federal Police in the pocket of hundreds of suspected offenders,” said Australian Police Chief Reece Kershaw in the statement. “Basically, they handcuffed each other by embracing and trusting ANoM and communicating openly with it, not knowing that we were listening to them all the time,” he added. Crimincels will have to come back to “burner phones” and prepaid cards.