My take on the recent ANOM situation, and a rant on the stealth phone industry.
10 days ago1, a messaging application I never heard of called ANOM was revealed to be a sting operation that was ran by the FBI and several other law enforcement agencies. At the time of writing this, 800 people have been arrested. I find this very interesting, and it’s the first time (I think?) that a law enforcement agency has ever made fake software like this to catch illegal activity.
I have never used the ANOM app before, and I have not seen many pictures either except on sites like the news or Wikipedia. I can’t help but think negatively about the serious negligence of awareness the customers of this app had. Many of the descriptions and news reports make it look like an app I’d want to avoid if I saw it in the wild. I’m going to write about why I think so.
What ANOM actually was
It appeared that the ANOM client was distributed via mobile devices that you purchased from the ‘developers’ online. The moment I saw this, I could assume that the FBI was trying to copy the ‘stealth phone’ industry. These types of businesses make modified smartphones with their own software or bundle other software in to sell a secure mobile device.
These suspicious businesses have probably been on law enforcement’s watch for a long time, ANOM was initially distributed in 2018. The same time last year, police infiltrated EncroChat, a communications network that distributed their platform from a special mobile device with it’s own operating system. EncroChat began supposedly in 2015. These types of suspicious businesses have been around for a long time.
In my opinion these phones are not worth the thousands of dollars or even worth your damn time. These types of devices are a joke, and only idiots fall for them.
Why ‘Stealth’ phones are stupid
Many stealth phones are just repackaged Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel phones that are flashed with a stock android distribution like LineageOS or a security-configured OS like GrapheneOS. For example, this listing I found online:
Why the hell would you ever buy this? GrapheneOS is free and open source software, and you can get the same experience for cheap by buying a Google Pixel or for free if you own one already.
The many apps used by Shitty Stealth Phones
These apps aren’t bad at all. In fact, most are very good, but shouldn’t be sold like this.
- Messaging: Telegram, Signal, Silence, An XMPP client, A Matrix client
- E-Mail: ProtonMail, Tutanota
- Web Browsing: Privacy Browser, Vanadium
- VPN: Orbot, NordVPN2, ProtonVPN
- Cellular network security: AIMSICD, SnoopSnitch, proprietary “software”
ANOM is stupid
I am going by Wikipedia’s aggregate description of the app from the time this article was written.
ANOM’s messaging app appeared to be distributed via a mobile device that you purchased online. The phones were ‘modified’ to disable functions like the cellular features and location services, and then have network traffic proxied by servers which were later found out to be ran by the FBI.
Why would you purchase an app like this that could only be used by a device that they provide? It’s not just suspicious, it is also inconvenient. The proxied network on the mobile device is also a huge red flag and would make it no different to an iPhone or Android device which has connections to Apple and Google on boot. A secure mobile device would have no connections linked to the service unless you used the mobile app only. The TOR network is sufficient, or even better, no proxied connections at all.
On an archived website before the seizure3, a video of the ANOM phone shows that it has dual cameras. If you’re going to disable the several parts of the device, I’d have disabled the cameras also especially if it’s meant for maximum security. I know the comment seems a bit overkill, and a private messenger can be used with a camera, but I also believe it SHOULD have been overkill if they were providing a special device with it.
Any criminal using this deserved to get caught.
How to make a GOOD smartphone
If you want a secure smartphone that respects your freedoms, then install GrapheneOS or LineageOS yourself. Do not trust these shitty phones to give you security, and most importantly, dont buy this questionably illegal shit just to have more freedom and control over your software.
A reputable and popular messenger like XMPP with OTR, Element, or even Telegram, provides the same level of privacy. None of them have records of being compromised either.
Probably at the time of uploading this, it will be much later. ↩︎
AHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH HAHAHAHAHAHAH HAHAAAAAAAA LMFAOOOOOOOO AHJAHAHAHAHAHAHA ↩︎