Anom Encrypted Communications Platform Was Actually a Trap Set for Cybercriminals

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in News June 17, 2021

 For 18 long months, the FBI and other global law enforcement agencies worked tirelessly on a lengthy sting operation using a fake encrypted communications platform used by cybercriminals to plan their heists. 

What is the Deal?

Anom is an encrypted communications platform developed by the FBI, and they used it for the past 18 months to monitor all communications between cybercriminals. 

The results were astounding. According to Data Breach Today “In recent days, the information and intelligence gleaned from those communications was used in a large-scale series of police operations across 16 countries that led to more than 800 arrests and the seizure of more than 8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis and cannabis resin, 2 tons of synthetic drugs, 6 tons of synthetic drugs precursors, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in various worldwide currencies and cryptocurrencies, says Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency.”

The undertaking was a major effort involving the Australian Federal Police, the FBI, the Dutch National Police, and Swedish Police, backed by Europol and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The Australian and New Zealand police called the sting “Ironside,” the FBI dubbed it “Trojan Shield,” and the Europol called its group the “Greenlight operational task force.”

What is Anom?

Anom is an encrypted communications platform developed by the FBI to lure criminals in so they could secretly monitor all their secure communications. The FBI launched it in 2018, and pretty quickly, cybercriminals swarmed to it like bees to honey. 

In a recent news release, Europol said, “The goal of the new platform was to target global organized crime, drug trafficking, and money laundering organizations, regardless of where they operated, and offer an encrypted device with features sought by the organized crime networks, such as remote wipe and duress passwords, to persuade criminal networks to pivot to the device.”

The platform took off like wildfire. Just during the past 18 months, cyber thieves send more than 27 million messages using Anom. Europol’s Deputy Director of Operations, Jean-Phillipe Lecouffe, said, “The figures are impressive: more than 12,000 encrypted devices, used by more than 300 criminal syndicates, operating in more than 100 countries.”

How the Takedown Worked?

The skillful trap ensnared “Italian organized crime, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and international drug trafficking organizations,” as well as many other cybercrime organizations leading to hundreds of arrests and the shutdown of substantial criminal operations. 

During a press conference, the FBI added that “To give you an idea of the magnitude of our penetration, we were able to actually see photographs of hundreds of tons of cocaine that were concealed in shipments of … canned goods.”

Data Breach Today reported that ‘As Vice Media first reported, a search warrant obtained by the FBI and served to Google, seeking communications for multiple suspects, dated May 18 and unsealed Monday, notes that as part of the covert, ongoing investigation, “the FBI is targeting almost two dozen of the Anom platform’s administrators and distributors.”’

The search warrant named numerous individuals suspected of engaging “in international maritime narcotics smuggling.” Other details remain concealed as the ongoing investigation continues, with more arrests expected.

What really helped to sell it was Anon’s reputation for being “absolutely reliable” and secure. The Netherland’s police chief commented that “thousands of criminal users wrongly believed themselves to be unobserved in their communication via this service. Eventually, hundreds of criminal organizations were using this platform. It has a good reputation among criminals. They mutually promoted it as the platform you should use for its absolute reliability. But nothing was further from the truth.”

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