In the past 48 hours, the FBI’s Operation Trojan Shield took down hundreds of suspected international criminals using a hacked messaging service, with authorities working around the world for one of the largest sting operations in history.
The service, called ANOM, was marketed as a highly encrypted and secure mobile device with a messaging service that promised the ultimate in anonymity, according to CBS News. About 12,000 devices began using the service coordinating criminal activities.
Little did users know, it was actually run by the FBI.
Launched in October 2019, ANOM eventually accumulated 27 million messages before the coordinated sting was launched.
48 Hours, 9,000 Officers and 700 Worldwide Locations
When the signal was given, about 9,000 officers converged on 700 locations in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Europe. It took a mere 48 hours, and then the service was closed down on Monday.
In addition to the more than 800 arrests, the operation netted:
- 32 tons of drugs
- 250 guns
- 55 luxury cars
- $48 million in worldwide currencies
More than 50 drug labs were also destroyed, including one of the largest in Germany.
“The results are staggering,” FBI Assistant Director Calvin Shivers said Tuesday morning at Europol’s headquarters in The Netherlands.
“Operation Trojan Shield was an innovative approach to an ongoing, evolving and complex problem law enforcement continues to face every day — how to infiltrate closed encrypted communication devices utilized solely and exclusively for criminal activity,” said Special Agent Suzanne Turner of the FBI’s San Diego field office.
“We have arrested the alleged kingmakers behind these crimes, prevented mass shootings in suburbs and frustrated serious and organized crime by seizing their ill-gotten wealth,” Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said.
The FBI indicated it provided more than 300 criminal syndicates in over 100 different countries with around 12,000 devices that used ANOM.
ANOM was generally installed on stripped-down mobile devices that could not make calls, browse the web or use GPS. Designed for secure messaging alone, it was thought the devices were untraceable.
It all came about when the FBI dismantled another service used by criminals, called PhantomSecure, in 2018. Rather than chase down other messaging services that criminals would flock to, the FBI decided to create its own, and ANOM was born.
While the massive sting operation spelled the end of the service, Shivers made assurances that the intelligence gathered over the two years was used continually to prevent crime.
The information gathered “enabled us to prevent murders. It led to the seizure of drugs that led to the seizure of weapons. And it helped prevent a number of crimes,” Shivers said.
Though the massive sting operation revealed the truth about ANOM, criminals will always want a secured messaging service, so they will have to take the risk that their next service doesn’t have officers watching their every word.
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