AN0M: a fake phone company created just to bust alleged criminals

AN0M logo

The FBI and a host of other law enforcement organizations (LEOs) were the founders and operators of an encrypted phone company that spied on alleged criminals – worldwide. According to various reports, a lot of drugs, money, weapons, counterfeit goods have been seized in raids accross the Globe.

The operation that surely had a number of sonorous and telling names, such as IRONSDE, TROJAN HORSE came at the heels of previous hardships of LEOs with hardened smartphones, such as the EnnetCom, SkyGlobal, EncroChat and Phantom Secure.

What is known is that the LEOs built on the expertise of a former employee of a company that sold hardened smartphones and at the same time used confidential connections to spread the word in the underworld about the novel “uncrackable and secure” phone that has no voice phone, GPS and email clients. It looked like a fully confidential and secret thing, for example the chat application opened only if one entered a specific calculation into the calculator. While the phone itself was “secure”, the proxy network wasn’t so – for it was entirely ran by the LEOs and it meant that all encryption was lost along the way, making it possible for the LEOs to read chatters in a real-time manner. The operation ran for about two and a half years during which timeframe a neat collection of many millions of conversations have been collected – all thought to be secret. And most of these conversations were allegedly about something illegal and something big.

In the end it appears that a lot of busts occured in Australia, Mexico and the EU and the LEOs netted a total of 40 tons of drugs, 250 guns, 55 luxury cars and more than $48 million in various currencies and cryptocurrencies – all thanks to the blind trust in “secure communications”, something that never ever existed in the digital domain. It woths mentioning though, that while the FBI obviously is an American LEO outfit, it seems that no one was arrested in the U.S. – for legal reasons beyond the scope of this article.

While some experts raised their concerns regarding AN0M, it appears that the targeted people failed to read infosec blogs or waved off the warnings concerning the AN0M phones’ vulnerabilities.

Counter-AI Collective analysis:

In essence this operation bears the hallmarks of a good intel / LEO op. It involves a co-operating founder, who had been caught earlier and then persuaded to help rather than go to jail, a number of undercover operatives who made a well-established underworld figure believing in the phone’s utility and a rather classic Man-in-the-Middle infrastructure eliminating the need for direct remote access to the devices.

This was one smart move, I have to admit. Well, the naturally occuring question is: could they have escaped the fall? My answer is yes, they could have escaped it. And at the same time they probably they shouldn’t have used special phones either.

The simple reason is that there is only one mathematically unbreakable encryption exists and that is the use of truly random one-time pads. So the only secure way to communicate is to use one-time pads, that will not be cracked one way or the other. In other words: if you communicate trough plaintext via whichever channel, you are doomed to failure.

Unless you have no secrets. Then you can rest assured in technology.

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