• Ashu Bisht

ANOM Messaging System- What Is It And How Law Enforcement Agencies Used It to Tricked Criminals

ANOM was touted as a fully secure, encrypted mobile phone that promised the user of absolute secrecy in communications. Basically, it was a jailbroken phone using a customized operating system - without the normal text, phone or GPS services that would make it trackable and traceable.

"ANOM, a secure messaging service developed by FBI and other law enforcement agencies, launched in October 2019 and solidified its following after authorities shut down another competitor. Its popularity spread quickly by word of mouth."

On the surface, the device looked like a regular cellphone, but it included a "secure" messaging service hidden behind a working calculator app. In theory, the mobile phone functioned on a closed network - ANOM phones could only communicate with other ANOM phones using "military-grade" encryption that transmitted data through secure proxy servers. The phones also included a kill switch that enables users to delete contacts or other locally stored data. Other similar services offering end-to-end encryption such as Phantom Secure, Sky Global, Ciphr and EncroChat have been used by criminal networks for years to plan, plot and communicate - and many of such services have been exploited by law enforcement. However, this time, the FBI decided to launch its own encrypted app to fight organized crime, drug trafficking and money laundering activities around the world. The agency recruited an employee to develop a next-generation secure messaging platform for the criminal underworld called ANOM. The employee developed the system so that the agency had access to all messages sent. Assisting FBI was a paid employee who had previously marketed other encrypted devices to members of the global criminal underworld.

ANOM didn't get deployed right away. But then, other secure platforms used by criminals to organize drug trafficking and money laundering worldwide were shut down by police, most notably EncroChat and Sky ECC. That put the gangs in the market for a new app, and FBI was all set with its own platform. The agency supplied ANOM phones to gangs in more than 100 countries through unsuspecting middlemen. The ANOM app became popular in criminal circles as users told each other it was a secure platform. All the while, police were looking over their shoulders as they reported attacks, drug shipments, and other crimes.

Users believed their ANOM devices were secured by encryption. They were - but every message was also directly sent to law enforcement agents.

For months, the suspected drug syndicates, contract killers and dealers of weapons in different countries thought that they were using phones which were expensive and highly encrypted. They thought the ANOM encrypted phones would keep their messages secured and openly discussed about drug deals and other deals related to weapons, trafficking etc. by text messages. However, it came to light that through these encrypted phones, the criminals were channeling their plots directly into the hands of FBI agents.

The FBI and other agencies including the Australian and European law enforcement used these ANOM end-to-end encrypted phones to get hold of a number of criminals.