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ANOM sting operation

Sting operation

Top 3 ANOM sting operation related articles

ANOM sting operation
Date
  • October 2018 (initial device distribution)
  • 8 June 2021 (search warrant execution)
Location100+ countries
MotiveSurveillance of criminal activity
Organised byU.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Europol, Australian Federal Police, and others
Outcome800+ arrests, and seizure of 40 tons of drugs, 250 guns, 55 luxury cars, and over $48 million in currencies and cryptocurrencies

ANOM (styled as AN0M) was a supposedly secure smartphone-based messaging app used by criminals that formed the basis for a sting operation. ANOM was initially covertly distributed by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Australian Federal Police, with law enforcement agencies in other countries joining in later. Instead of allowing secure communication, it actually allowed law enforcement to intercept millions of communications using its devices, allowing the police to build cases against hundreds of suspects allegedly involved in criminal activity.[1][2] More than 800 people were arrested in 16 countries. The FBI named the operation as Operation Trojan Shield,[3] with the Australian police giving it the name Operation Ironside.[4]

Background

The shutdown of the Canadian secure messaging company Phantom Secure in March 2018 left international drug traffickers in need of an alternative system for secure communication.[5] Around the same time, the San Diego FBI branch had been working with an individual who had been developing a "next generation" encrypted device for use by criminal networks. The person was facing charges and cooperated with the FBI in exchange for a reduced sentence. The individual offered to develop ANOM and then distribute it to criminals through their existing networks.[6][7]

The first communication devices with ANOM were offered by this informant to three former distributors of Phantom Secure in October 2018.[8]

The FBI also negotiated with a third (unnamed) country to set up a communication interception, but based on a court order that allowed passing the information back to the FBI. Since October 2019, ANOM communications have been passed onto the FBI from this third country.[5]

ANOM sting operation Background articles: 2

Distribution and usage

The ANOM devices consisted of a messaging app running on smartphones that had been specially modified to disable normal functions such as voice telephony, email, or location services.[9] After checking that normal functionality was disabled,[9] the messaging apps installed on the phones then communicated with one another via supposedly secure proxy servers. All messages sent on the phones were copied to servers controlled by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and decrypted using a private key attached to the message, as opposed to law enforcement agencies having remote access to the devices.[7][10] The devices also had a fixed identification number assigned to each user, allowing messages from the same user to be connected to each other.[10]

There were about 50 devices distributed in Australia for beta testing from October 2018. The intercepted communications showed that every device was used for criminal activities, primarily being used by organised criminal gangs.[5][7]

Use of the app spread through word of mouth,[7] and was also encouraged by undercover agents;[11] former drug trafficker Hakan Ayik was identified "as someone who was trusted and was going to be able to successfully distribute this platform", and without his knowledge was encouraged by undercover agents to use and sell the devices on the black market, further expanding its use.[11][12] After users of the devices requested smaller and newer phones, new devices were designed and sold.[8]

After a slow start, the rate of distribution of ANOM increased from mid-2019. By October 2019, there were several hundred users. By May 2021, there had been 11,800 devices with ANOM installed, of which about 9,000 were in use.[5] New Zealand had 57 users of the ANOM communication system.[13] The Swedish Police had access to conversations from 1,600 users, of which they focused their surveillance on 600 users.[14] Europol stated 27 million messages were collected from ANOM devices across over 100 countries.[15]

In March 2021, an anonymous WordPress user canyouguess67 declared the app as being a "scam", exposing connections to Google servers and companies within Australia and the United States, which are part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. Additionally, a warrant to access a server in an undisclosed country expired on 7 June.[7]

ANOM sting operation Distribution and usage articles: 12

Arrests and reactions

The sting operation culminated in search warrants being executed simultaneously around the globe on 8 June 2021.[13] The background to the sting operation and its transnational nature was revealed following the execution of the search warrants. A large number of arrests were made, including alleged members of Australian-based Italian mafia, Albanian organised crime, outlaw motorcycle gangs, drug syndicates and other crime groups.[1][4][16] Over 800 people were arrested in 16 countries.[17]

In the European Union, arrests were coordinated through Europol.[18] Arrests were also made in the United Kingdom, although the National Crime Agency was unwilling to provide details about the number arrested.[19] In Sweden, 155 people were arrested as part of the operation on 7 June.[14]

The seized evidence included almost 40 tons of drugs (over 8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis and cannabis resin, 6 tons of synthetic drug precursors, 2 tons of synthetic drugs), 250 guns, 55 luxury cars,[17] and more than $48 million in various currencies and cryptocurrencies. In Australia alone, 224 people were arrested on 526 charges.[16] In total over the course of the three years, more than 9,000 police officers across 18 countries were involved in the sting operation. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the sting operation had "struck a heavy blow against organised crime".[1] Europol described it as the "biggest ever law enforcement operation against encrypted communication".[1]

In New Zealand, 35 people were arrested who are facing 900 charges. Police seized $3.7 million in assets, including 14 vehicles, drugs, firearms and more than 1 million in cash.[20][21]

ANOM sting operation Arrests and reactions articles: 10

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d "ANOM: Hundreds arrested in massive global crime sting". BBC News. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  2. ^ Cox, Joseph (8 June 2021). "Trojan Shield: How the FBI Secretly Ran a Phone Network for Criminals". www.vice.com. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  3. ^ "Hundreds arrested after Australian police and FBI crack underworld messaging app". The Guardian. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  4. ^ a b Westcott, Ben. "FBI and Australian Federal Police encrypted app trap ensnares hundreds of criminal suspects". CNN. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d Cheviron, Nicholas (17 May 2021). "Affidavit in support of application for search warrant". documentcloud.org. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  6. ^ Corder, Mike and Perry, Nick, Global sting: FBI-encrypted app tricks organized crime, Associated Press, June 8, 2021
  7. ^ a b c d e "ANOM global phone sting: What we know". RTÉ. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  8. ^ a b Zhuang, Yan; Peltier, Elian; Feuer, Alan (8 June 2021). "The Criminals Thought the Devices Were Secure. But the Seller Was the F.B.I." The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  9. ^ a b Sharwood, Simon. "Australian cops, FBI created backdoored chat app, told crims it was secure – then snooped on 9,000 users' plots". www.theregister.com. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  10. ^ a b Robertson, Adi (8 June 2021). "The FBI secretly launched an encrypted messaging system for criminals". The Verge. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  11. ^ a b "The Australian fugitive who led his criminal friends into a police trap". www.abc.net.au. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  12. ^ "Hakan Ayik: The man who accidentally helped FBI get in criminals' pockets". BBC News. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  13. ^ a b "Anom: The app at the heart of the FBI's major transnational sting". The New Zealand Herald. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  14. ^ a b Smed, Akvelina (8 June 2021). "155 tungt kriminella gripna i Sverige i stor insats". SVT Nyheter (in Swedish). Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  15. ^ "Drug Rings' Favorite New Encrypted Platform Had One Flaw: The FBI Controlled It". NPR.org. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  16. ^ a b "AFP-led Operation Ironside smashes organised crime". Australian Federal Police. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  17. ^ a b "Европол задержал более 800 преступников в рамках международной операции" (in Russian). Gazeta.ru. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  18. ^ "Trojan Shield: Europol details massive organized crime sting". DW.COM. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  19. ^ "UK criminals among those duped into using secret message service run by the FBI". belfasttelegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  20. ^ "FBI-encrypted app hailed as a 'shining example' of collaboration between world cops for tricking gangs". Stuff. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  21. ^ "Anom: The app at the heart of the FBI's major transnational sting". NZ Herald. Retrieved 8 June 2021.