CYBER SECURITY

FBI releases encrypted devices to catch criminals

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A trapping operation put the equipment in the hands of criminals around the world and used the collected intelligence to stop drug crimes.

This week, the FBI detailed the results of a years-long assassination operation, the core of which is to put encrypted devices (usually used for secret illegal activities) directly into the hands of criminals.

In an operation called Operation Trojan Shield, the FBI worked with the Australian Federal Police and several other international agencies to launch an encrypted communication platform and provided more than 12,000 devices to hundreds of criminal organizations around the world. Officials reported that the sting led to the arrest of hundreds of suspected criminals in Australia and throughout Europe.

The distributed equipment is usually purchased by criminals through the word-of-mouth recommendation network and provides data encryption tools. If they fall into the hands of law enforcement agencies, they can also be wiped clean remotely. According to the FBI, these devices usually sell for between US$1,200 and US$2,000 and are “designed to maximize confidentiality and avoid court-authorized access required by law enforcement agencies.”

An FBI official said in a statement: “The FBI’s San Diego Field Office is the center of more than 100 agents and analysts and 80 linguists who gathered to carry out the cancellation of the encrypted phone provider Phantom Secure. Action started.”

In 2018, officials accused Phantom Secure executives of promoting drug smuggling by providing encrypted devices to criminals. After the equipment suppliers closed, officials seized the market gap between the criminals who bought the equipment and launched their own activities. The network of devices issued by the FBI allows officials to insert a master key into each device to decrypt and store transmitted messages.

These devices generate a copy of every message for FBI evaluation and analysis. As a result of the information collected from these devices, the FBI then sent the information to cooperating agencies and seized thousands of kilograms of drugs and millions of dollars from criminal activities.

“Encryption devices have been and will continue to be a safe haven for criminal organizations, especially the leadership of these organizations-providing them with a communication platform that we can’t access,” said Jamie Arnold, assistant special agent of the FBI in San Diego, in a statement.

“For the agents of the investigation team and our federal and international partners, this is a creative and innovative way to hide behind the firewall and see what happens between the leaders of these criminal organizations.”

More details about the operation can be found here

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