FBI used cheap Google Pixels as gangbusting Anom phone honeypots

FBI used cheap Google Pixels for its gangbusting Anom secure phone honeypot scheme

It was the most successful FBI operation in modern times – forcing hundreds of criminals to use FBI’s own encrypted messaging platform. The result? The largest underworld bust with oven-ready proof for prosecutors to bring the cases to their successful completion.

How did the FBI do it? Well, it was all over the news but essentially it established a company that marketed privacy- and security-oriented phones, with a central role of a preinstalled software called Anon.

Needless to say, the messaging app touted end-to-end encryption and the phones were decked out with all the other security goodies that come with products from that niche that are popular with shady individuals or privacy nuts. It’s just that FBI made the software, so it could snoop on all communication content therein.
Not everyone used the phones for nefarious purposes, of course, and thank fate, as Vice was able to source some of FBI’s handsets remaining in circulation from regular buyers. We otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to learn the brand that the FBI used to get its Anon chat app in the hands of criminals.

Gangbusting Pixels

Surprise, surprise, it’s Pixel phones! Mostly from the affordable A-line, like Pixel 3a/4a, but still, these are supposed to be secure burners, after all. The Anom-laden phones were sourced by folks who unwittingly came across them on classifieds sites like Craigslist where they were sold simply as a cheap Pixel, without suspecting these are part of the FBI’s honeypot scheme.

A bit of reverse engineering showed that they are running a so-called Arcane OS ROM, can’t be flashed with anything else, and have all the markings of a secure phone, such as dual account logging, anonymous messaging, and a secure wipe feature.

The fun part is that FBI’s honeypots came from places as diverse as Germany and Lithuania, indicating why the agency managed to score such a huge amount of arrests – its encrypted phone scheme was obviously with quite the global reach, and the Google Pixels of this were anointed as its vehicle of success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *