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What Is Anom App? How Did FBI Use It to Arrest Drug Peddlers?

Anom appeared to be a messaging app that could be used to communicate without fear of monitoring by cops.

Updated
Tech and Auto
2 min read
Police officials around the world announced on Wednesday, 9 June, that they tricked alleged criminals worldwide into using an FBI-run encrypted messaging app called Anom.
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Police officials around the world announced on Wednesday, 9 June, that they tricked alleged criminals around the world into using an FBI-run encrypted messaging app called Anom.

The joint operation was conducted by the American Investigation Service, the Australian Police, and a host of European law enforcement agencies in an effort to give officials a backdoor view of global criminal enterprises.

What Is Anom?

Anom appeared to be a messaging app that could be used to communicate without fear of being monitored by law enforcement.

The app claimed to be fully end-to-end encrypted, and allowed exchange of photos and video-based chats,. However, this app was widely used by criminals for illicit purposes.

The messaging app came pre-installed in phones which are sold in the blackmarket.

Different Than Other Apps

According to the FBI, more than 12,000 people downloaded Anom. However, the app was a ruse cooked up by Australian and US officials in 2018.

While the users believed that messages were encrypted, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies had built in a ‘master key’ to the app, meaning that police officials could decrypt and store any messages sent without the user knowing.

The FBI called the plan 'Operation Trojan Shield', and the Australian law enforcement named it 'Special Operation Ironside'.

Drug Dealer Key to the Operation

The idea for the operation came after two other encrypted platforms were taken down by law enforcement agencies, leaving criminal gangs in the market for new secure apps.

The FBI then distributed Anom among the criminal underworld via informants, giving other criminals the confidence to use the platform.

"You had to know a criminal to get hold of one of these customised phones. The phones couldn't ring or email. You could only communicate with someone on the same platform," said the Australian Police .

Alleged drug trafficker Hakan Ayik was the key to the sting who recommended the app to his criminal associates after being given a handset by undercover officers, the police explained.

The police said that after the operation was uncovered, Ayik was "best off handing himself into us" as soon as possible, as he may be in danger himself, having helped the FBI with their sting.

At least 12,000 encrypted devices were used by around 300 criminal syndicates in more than 100 countries.

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What Did the Cops Find?

Cops could find many alleged drug peddlers using the app for illicit transactions and drug peddling.

Using Anom, "Ironman", a drug peddler texted "Real G" on how they could get volumes of cocaine into Hong Kong, where they had no one in customs to shepherd it through.

"Real G" sent "Ironman" a photograph of drug packages which were allegedly layered in between bananas in a shipping crate.

More than 27 million such messages were scooped up and decrypted, exposing global criminal networks.

The US Justice Department said that 'Operation Trojan' led to 800 arrests of worldwide criminals.

Police officials on three continents seized as many as 38 tons of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and precursor chemicals, 250 firearms, and currencies worth $48 million in the operation.

At least 50 clandestine drug labs were shut down and more than 100 potential murders disrupted.

(With inputs from AFP)

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