Police in 16 countries were able to read the messages of underworld figures as they plotted drug deals, arms transfers and gangland hits on the compromised AN0M devices.
Mafia groups, Asian crime syndicates, motorcycle gangs and other criminal networks were all monitored using the spiked phones as part of Operation Trojan Shield, the name given to Operation Ironside in the US.
The sting, jointly conceived by Australia and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, prevented around 150 murders, foiled several large-scale narcotics shipments and led to seizures of 250 weapons and $48 million in currency, they added.
The former Phantom Secure worker helped police.Source:istock
What is AN0M?
AN0M was billed as a fully secure encrypted mobile phone that promised the user total secrecy in communications.
Essentially it was a jailbroken handset that used a modified operating system – removing any of the normal text, phone or GPS services that would make it trackable and traceable.
On the surface, the device would look like a normal mobile phone, but it contained a “secure” messaging service hidden behind a functioning calculator app.
In theory, the phone operated on a closed network – AN0M phones could only communicate with other AN0M phones using “military grade” encryption that transferred data via secure proxy servers.
The phones also contained a kill switch to delete contacts or any other data stored locally.
Similar services like Phantom Secure, Sky Global, Ciphr and EncroChat have for years been used by criminal networks for planning and communication — and many have been exploited by law enforcement.
A map of where there were active AN0M devices.Source:News Limited Network
Why did criminals buy it?
Initially, 50 AN0M phones were distributed in a test run, mostly to members of Australian organised criminal gangs.
But through word of mouth they gained in popularity with criminal underworld figures, who reportedly recommended them to friends.
Interest in AN0M exploded in 2020 when European authorities rolled up EncroChat, with dozens arrested, and after Sky Global CEO Jean Francois Eap was detained.
In the end, the FBI, the Australian Federal Police and an unnamed “third country” were able to access more than 20 million messages from 11,800 devices in 90 countries.
They were most popular in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Australia and Serbia.
– With Wires