The AFP and FBI developed ANoM app secretly distributed among criminals used to make over 800 criminal arrests worldwide

By Cameron AbbottWarwick Andersen and Jacqueline Patishman

[Editor: It has been a busy week for all Cyberwatchers, and our blog has been running hot.  This however is our favourite.]

For at least the last three years the Australian Federal Police and the United Stated Federal Bureau of Investigation have been working together to run ‘Operation Ironside’ using an app called ANoM. The app has allowed law enforcement to easily monitor criminal communications and to make over 800 criminal arrests so far.

The encrypted app, developed by the FBI, was made available on custom phones that were distributed by undercover agents and informants to criminals around the world.  The Google Android devices (only available on the black market) were stripped of their other capability and were only capable of sending text messages to other phones with the ANoM app.  The ultimate honey trap was set.

It’s been reported that the app had approximately 11,000 users worldwide (1,650 of these located in Australia) across around 300 criminal syndicates in more than 100 countries. It’s also been reported that 4000 federal, state and territory police have executed warrants across Australia regarding Operation Ironside since yesterday and that 244 people have been arrested in Australia so far.

Operation Ironside has allowed the AFP to prevent murders (having become aware of 20 threats to kill via the app), seize 3.7 tonnes of drugs, 104 weapons, close to $45 million in cash and a range of other assets since the operation began three years ago.

It’s been reported that the idea for the operation came about through criminal’s demand for new encrypted phones after two other platforms offering similar encryption services were taken down by law enforcement.

The ambitious move to get criminals to use the app is an amazing achievement for law enforcement who legitimised the app by providing the customised devices to allegedly senior crime figures and following industry trends like charging a monthly subscription.

It is both exciting and comforting to see these kinds of technological developments in law enforcement – we thought this kind of thing only happened in the movies!

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