Operation Ironside: Hacker who helped police orchestrate ‘stab of the century’ with secret crime app

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Mafia, bicycles and criminal gangs lay in ruins this week after police launched their « stitch of the century » – but it would have been impossible without one hacker.

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It’s the Trojan Horse app that’s going to blow up the criminal underworld…

It is the Trojan Horse app that is going to blow up the criminal underworld

A hacker was behind Operation Ironside.Source: News Corp Australia

A secretive informant and hacker, who once worked for some of the world’s worst underworld figures, is credited as the driving force behind what many call the « stitch of the century ».

Police around the world this week attacked hundreds of alleged criminals, all accused of using a top-secret messaging app to communicate with bicycles, mafia and other notorious gangs.

Police allege that thousands of people have used the AN0M app, which can only be found on encrypted, « jailbroken » phones, for three years to organize crime and violence.

However, in a stunning twist earlier this week, police revealed that the messaging app had been monitored by law enforcement officers from its inception three years ago.

More than 800 people who allegedly used the app have since been arrested — 225 of them in Australia — but the stunning sting couldn’t have worked without the help of a Canadian.

According to court documents from the US Department of Justice, the FBI’s operation began in early 2018, after the agency dismantled a Canadian-based encryption service called Phantom Secure.

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Canadian businessman Vincent Ramos founded Phantom Secure Communications.  Image: YouTube/Allysian Sciences

Canadian businessman Vincent Ramos founded Phantom Secure Communications. Image: YouTube/Allysian SciencesSource:Supplied

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That tech company, police allege, had helped supply encrypted cell phones to drug gangs, including Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa cartel.

In March 2018, Phantom Secure CEO Vincent Ramos was indicted by a grand jury and would eventually plead guilty with colleagues to a series of drug trafficking charges.

After destroying that method of communication, the FBI decided to fill the gap in the underworld market.

The FBI managed to recruit a former Phantom Secure distributor and hacker, who had developed a new encrypted communications platform called AN0M.

According to court documents, the « confidential human source » agreed to work for the FBI and give them control of the network for the possibility of a reduced prison sentence.

He also got $120,000 for AN0M.

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, biker gangs and other criminal networks were all tracked using the nail phones as part of Operation Trojan Shield, the name given to Operation Ironside in the US.

The sting, conceived jointly by Australia and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, prevented about 150 murders, thwarted several large-scale narcotics and led to seizures of 250 weapons and $48 million in currency, it added.

The former Phantom Secure employee helped the police.

The former Phantom Secure employee helped the 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 custom operating system – removing any normal text, phone, or GPS services that would make it traceable and traceable.

At first glance, the device would look like a normal cell phone, but it featured a « secure » messaging service hidden behind a functioning calculator app.

In theory, the phone worked on a closed network – AN0M phones could only communicate with other AN0M phones using « military grade » encryption that transferred data through secure proxy servers.

The phones also include a kill switch to delete contacts or other locally stored data.

Similar services such as Phantom Secure, Sky Global, Ciphr and EncroChat have been used by criminal networks for planning and communication for years – and many have been exploited by law enforcement.

A map of where active AN0M devices were.

A map of where active AN0M devices were.Source: News Limited Network

Why did criminals buy it?

Initially, 50 AN0M phones were distributed in a test run, mainly to members of Australian organized crime gangs.

But through word of mouth, they gained 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 Jean Francois Eap, CEO of Sky Global, was detained.

Ultimately, the FBI, the Australian Federal Police and an undisclosed « third country » gained access to 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

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