Sting Operation With Underworld App, Results In Hundreds Of Arrests

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Police around the world have arrested more than 800 people after using encrypted messaging app An0m developed by law enforcement

Law enforcement agencies around the world have delivered a significant blow to organised crime, thanks to the use of a trojan messaging app.

The encrypted messaging app was called An0m, and was reportedly developed after it was conceived by Australian police and the FBI in 2018.

An0M was a supposedly secure encrypted messaging device, which was then sold to organised crime networks.

Sting operation

An0M grew to service more than 12 000 encrypted devices to over 300 criminal syndicates operating in more than 100 countries, including Italian organised crime, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and international drug trafficking organisations.

But unbeknown to the criminals using the app, law enforcement around the world were monitoring the 27 million criminal messages being passed across it.

Indeed, Operation Greenlight/Trojan Shield, was reportedly one of the biggest infiltrations and takeovers of a specialised encrypted network.

The US FBI, Australian Federal Police, and police forces in Holland, and Sweden took part in the operation.

According to Europol, a “series of large-scale law enforcement actions were executed over the past days across 16 countries resulting in more than 700 house searches, more than 800 arrests and the seizure of over 8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis and cannabis resin, 2 tons of synthetic drugs (amphetamine and methamphetamine), 6 tons of synthetic drugs precursors, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in various worldwide currencies and cryptocurrencies.”

It said countless spin-off operations will be carried out in the weeks to come.

This is the latest blow for organised crime, after the EncroChat encrypted platform was dismantled by the Operational Taskforce EMMA (France, the Netherlands) in July 2020.

Evading police

“This operation is an exceptional success by the authorities in the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and the other European members of the Operational Task Force,” explained Europol’s deputy executive director Jean-Philippe Lecouffe.

“Europol coordinated the international law enforcement community, enriched the information picture and brought criminal intelligence into ongoing operations to target organised crime and drug trafficking organisations, wherever they are and however they choose to communicate,” said Lecouffe. “I am very satisfied to see Europol supporting this operation and strengthen law enforcement partnerships by emphasizing the multi-agency aspect of the case.”

“Encrypted criminal communications platforms have traditionally been a tool to evade law enforcement and facilitate transnational organised crime,” noted Calvin Shivers, assistant director, at the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The FBI and our international partners continue to push the envelope and develop innovative ways to overcome these challenges and bring criminals to justice,” said Shivers. “We are grateful to Europol for their commitment to fighting transnational organized crime and their partnership with the FBI.”

Vulnerable encryption?

The success of the operation, shows that law enforcement continues to take the fight to organised crime.

And its reliance on encryption and encrypted devices could be dangerous.

Back in 2013, leaks from Edward Snowden hinted that US and UK intelligence agencies had covertly implanted zero-day flaws in widely used security software and had broken encryption used by the most popular websites and online services.

It is thought the American NSA and British GCHQ already have the supercomputing power to crack 512-bit encryption in just a few minutes.

The NSA is widely believed to be capable of breaking 1024-bit encryption as well.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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