Australian police arrest over 200 after cracking underworld messaging app

More than 200 people were arrested during the operation

More than 200 people were arrested during the operation

As the AFP monitored the messages and photos shared on the devices, "100% of ANOM users in the test phase used ANOM to engage in criminal activity", the affidavit said.

Detective superintendent Greg Williams said 35 people had been arrested across the country on 900 "serious drug dealing, money laundering and other conspiracy-type charges" and were due to appear in court Tuesday. Raids were ongoing into the night, and it was unclear if there were any arrests or charges in the United States. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to provide additional details until then.

"The FBI had the lead on this".

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has revealed it was able to decrypt messages sent on a supposedly secure messaging app that was seeded into the criminal underworld and promoted as providing snoop-proof comms.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation "has struck a heavy blow against organised crime - not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world".

In what's been dubbed the "sting of the century" hundreds of people have been arrested as part of a global operation to bring down terrorist groups, mafia organisations and outlaw motorcycle gangs. To date, there have been more than 800 arrests and the seizure of more than eight tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis, two tons of synthetic drugs, 250 guns, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in cash and cryptocurrencies, Europol said.

According to reports in Australian media, the scheme was cooked up by an Australian Federal Police officer over beers with mates from the FBI.

"It was there to be seen, including "we'll have a speedboat meet you at this point", "this is who will do this" and so on".

The fake company, called ANØN, marketed itself on a slick public-facing website, featuring a black cellphone equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

Australian agencies helped get the phones in the hands of underworld "influencers" - including an Australian fugitive drug boss on the run in Turkey - in a bid to gain trust.

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The ploy matched tactics used by other end-to-end encryption communications businesses that had catered to criminal organizations, adding to the air of exclusivity and security.

Unknown to the app's users, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had access to the app and its communications, which the organization then used to collect information on criminal operations.

There were about 9,000 users of ANØN, including about 1,600 in Australia, said Kershaw.

"The success of Operation Trojan Shield is a result of tremendous innovation, dedication and unprecedented worldwide collaboration", Shivers said. The idea built on previous such efforts, such as the Phantom Secure platform.

The phone falling into the hands of a US agent changed everything. The source came on board after authorities dismantled the Phantom Secure encrypted smartphone network and arrested its CEO in 2018.

Law enforcers had "an edge" that they had never had before, said Kershaw.

"We allege they've been trafficking illicit drugs into Australia at an industrial scale".

Many of its users had migrated over to Sky Global, also known as SKY ECC, after European authorities decrypted a similar platform previous year, Encrochat.

Australian authorities said the sting was the nation's largest police operation and had involved 4,000 police officers. The CEO, Jean-Francois Eap, has denied that the platform is aimed at criminal users and said the phones at the center of the investigation were counterfeit. There was also evidence of corrupt government officials and police. "All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered". "There was no attempt to hide behind any kind of codified conversation".

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