Law enforcement agencies from three continents on Tuesday revealed a vast FBI-led sting operation that sold thousands of supposedly encrypted mobile phones to criminal organisations and intercepted their messages for years.
What is ANOM?
ANOM was billed as a fully secure encrypted mobile phone that promised the user total secrecy in communications.
Essentially it was a jailbroken handset that used a modified operating system—removing any of the normal text, phone or GPS services that would make it trackable and traceable.
On the surface, the device would look like a normal mobile phone, but it contained a “secure” messaging service hidden behind a functioning calculator app.
In theory, the phone operated on a closed network—ANOM phones could only communicate with other ANOM phones using “military grade” encryption that transferred data via secure proxy servers.
The phones also contained a kill switch to delete contacts or any other data stored locally.
Similar services like Phantom Secure, Sky Global, Ciphr, and EncroChat have for years been used by criminal networks for planning and communication—and many have been exploited by law enforcement.
Where did the FBI come in?
In March 2018 Phantom Secure’s CEO Vincent Ramos was indicted along with colleagues would eventually plead guilty to a raft of charges related to drug trafficking.
Shortly after that, an unnamed “confidential human source” presented the FBI with a next-generation encrypted device—that would be dubbed ANOM—which was designed to replace discredited, defunct or infiltrated systems.
The same source agreed to disseminate the now FBI-compromised devices among a network of blackmarket distributors who had sold Phantom Secure to carefully vetted or vouched-for individuals, usually members of organised criminal gangs.