Google Pixel 4a with custom firmware was used by the FBI to intercept the messages of criminals

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A fascinating motherboard story tells the story of an ordinary-looking mid-range phone with significant intentions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) used a Google Pixel 4a with custom firmware to intercept messages sent to direct criminal activity. Motherboard got the actual device and detailed how this was done.

Motherboard obtained and analyzed an Anom phone from a source who unsnowingly purchased one from a classifieds site.

Court documents explain that a former seller of other secure device gangs developed his own product called “Anom” and presented it to the FBI for use in investigations.

The PIN entry screen blurred the numbers every time it appeared. Source: Motherboard

With the resulting device, motherboard learned some of the innards of the firmware and software features of the Anom phone. The phone’s lock screen displayed an auto-jamming PIN screen, which rearranged the numbers on the PIN screen whenever it was used to make it harder for the eyes or apps to listen to the real PIN.

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Anom login screen. Source: Motherboard

The phone itself didn’t really work like a regular smartphone. It featured regular app icons for social networks and commonly used dating sites, but they didn’t open anything when in a hurry. The phone was running what’s called ArcaneOS (as shown on the Pixel 4a’s start screen) and a quick google search for the name leads to messages from confused buyers who unsnowingly bought a device flashed with the operating system. The one in this story was an XDA member in Australia. The software of the phones was modified and the bootloaders locked, so it was difficult to get back to the retail software.

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The settings screen of the Anom phone. Source: Motherboard

Last month, the FBI and its law enforcement partners in Europe and Australia announced hundreds of arrests from millions of messages from Anom users over the years. 27 million messages were obtained from more than 11,800 devices running Anom software in more than 100 countries. Criminals are said to have smuggled cocaine as part of large-scale trafficking orchestrations using these Anom phones. When these reports surfaced, users rushed to sell their Anom devices to unsuspecting people buying a cheap second-hand phone.

Discover the full story on Motherboard at the first Source link below.

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