The result of international judicial cooperation, a vast dragnet resulted in the arrest of 800 criminals. At the heart of the investigation, the FBI and the Australian police managed to control an encrypted messaging and voice over IP application called Anom and used by the criminals. No less than 27 million messages were intercepted.
“Historic”, “exceptional”, “never seen”, “the most sophisticated”… The qualifiers relating to Operation Trojan Shield (aka OTF Greenlight or Ironside) carried out by the police forces of 16 countries with the support of Europol flew this morning. In a press conference, broadcast on the Internet, a skewer of senior leaders from Europol, the FBI, the Australian federal police or the national police of the Netherlands followed one another to discuss the main characteristics. With a heck of a lot of loot. Indeed, this unprecedented large-scale operation resulted in more than 800 arrests and the seizure of more than 8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis, 8 tons of synthetic drugs (amphetamine and methamphetamine) and compounds used in their manufacture, 250 guns, 55 luxury vehicles, and over $48 million in various currencies and cryptocurrencies.
To pull off this feat, the police forces not only coordinated their efforts and shared information, but also devised a scheme that paid off. An encrypted messaging and voice over IP application (like Signal or Telegram) running on personalized phones was designed by the Australian police (AFP) and operated by the FBI. These special smartphones were sold for around 2000 dollars on the black market with only three functionalities: send messages, make videos and scramble the voice. The messaging service was disguised as a calculator app and all you had to do was type in a code to access it.
The smartphone has been pushed quite subtly with “criminal influencers” to appear quite believable to its designated target: criminals and organized gangs. Called Anom, this service has been used on more than 12,000 terminals belonging to at least 300 criminal networks in more than 100 countries. More than 27 million messages have been analyzed and enough evidence has been collected to allow the police to take action.
“Trojan Shield has made it possible to carry out several hundred police operations and to highlight networks of cybercriminal activity”, launched Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, director of operations at Europol. (credit: Europol)
Cleverly and meticulously trapped criminals
“For three years we have been developing an encrypted platform to watch communications between criminals and have a window to see organized crime in real time,” said Commander Jennifer Hurst of the Australian Federal Police. “Criminals need to know that the police force has taken advantage.” And Calvin Shivers, Deputy Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division, said, “Drugs, murders, corruption, criminal money… throughout Operation Trojan Shield the FBI and its partners have been accessing communications from criminals since 10 months “.
This Trojan Shield operation comes almost a year after the dismantling in July 2020 of the EncroChat encrypted communication platform, carried out in particular with the assistance of the National Gendarmerie. And also the blocking of communications from criminal networks with the Sky ECC tool. In search of an alternative in order to continue their illicit activities (drug trafficking, arms sales, money laundering, pawnbrokers, etc.), the thugs thought they would find the answer to their needs in Anom and were trapped. It remains to be seen what impact this operation will have on organized crime at the global level, because the resilience of this type of network should not be underestimated either, even if Trojan Shield has certainly dealt them a severe blow.