News

How FBI Used Encrypted Chatting App ANOM To Catch 800 Criminals


In a joint effort by the FBI and the Australian police, cops worldwide conducted one of the world’s most sophisticated mass criminal arrests. This was only possible due to authorities monitoring the use of the ANOM messaging platform, which was quite popular among criminal syndicates worldwide.

How did it all start?

According to officials, this all started when Australian police met with the FBI in 2018 over a couple of beers. From then on, both organizations went on to work together on operating the ANOM platform from behind the scenes. Criminal organizations used the black market to buy the devices that came with the app and had no other functionality.

Unbeknownst to these criminals, the FBI was tracking every message that came through the app. The app started to become popular within the criminal world pretty early on due to many factors. The first one being due to the closure of older, rival encrypted networks by law enforcement officials.

It also became notably popular within their network after an alleged member of the Australian criminal underworld, Hakan Ayik, one of the country’s most-wanted criminals, praised the devices to his associates and encouraged its usage. Due to this, more than 12,000 encrypted devices were used by around 300 criminal syndicates in over 100 countries.

“It has a good reputation among criminals. They mutually promote it as the platform you should use for its absolute reliability,” said Jannine van den Berg, chief commissioner of the national unit of the Dutch police. “But nothing was further from the truth.”

Global Operation: Ironside/Trojan Shield

The special operation was known as Ironside in Australia and Trojan Shield in the United States and Europe. Officials arrested more than 800 high-profile criminals worldwide, with a total of 17 countries taking part in the effort.

The operation exposed criminals linked to South American drug cartels, triad groups in Asia, and criminal syndicates based in the Middle East and Europe.

Due to this operation, crimes such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, robberies, and contract killings were stopped dead in their tracks.

Australian Federal Police

To give you an idea of the scale of this operation, over 9,000 law enforcement officers were sifting through 27 million messages sent via the app over the 18 months of the operation. After conducting raids all over the world, authorities were able to impound over-

  • Eight tons of cocaine
  • 22 tons of marijuana and hashish
  • Two tons of methamphetamine and amphetamine,
  • 250 firearms
  • 55 luxury vehicles
  • More than $48 million in cash and cryptocurrencies

Breaking the encryption

This is not the first time that authorities have broken encryption to stop criminal activities. To stop such unlawful activities, they do so regularly. Of course, that is with the help of these companies that provide these messaging apps. FBI has even been requesting Apple to create a backdoor in its system for several years now to help them collect evidence against these criminals but to no avail.

This whole fiasco tells us that is what total privacy and zero accountability can do in the wrong hands. Advocates of total privacy must understand the drawbacks of this system and its loopholes which criminals can exploit.

Published by
Nalin Rawat