Category: IT|Jul 10, 2021 | Author: Admin

The FBI used a modified Pixel phone to catch criminals

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In June, one could read that international police authorities ran a company that sold encrypted phones to criminals, in a new case about this it appears that the FBI and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) used Google Pixel 4a with custom software in this operation.

Since 2019, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, in close cooperation with the Australian Federal Police, has strategically developed and concealed an encrypted unit company, called Anom, which grew to serve more than 12,000 encrypted units to over 300 criminal syndicates operating in more than 100 countries, including Italian organized crime, criminal motorcycle gangs, and international organizations involved in drug trafficking.

 

Motherboard / Vice managed to get hold of one of the phones that the FBI sold to criminals and had a review taken. The hardware is a Pixel 4a, with several modifications aimed at a somewhat special user group.

 

One of the changes the FBI had made to ArcaneOS 10 was a feature called "PIN Scrambling", this made it so that the numbers on the lock screen were not listed from 1-9 with 0 at the bottom, this was so that you could not guess the combination based on fingerprints, etc. At the same time, it was also possible to enter a so-called Wipe Code from the lock screen which was supposed to delete everything on the phone.

 

 

Pin code is…
At the same time, there was also a feature that used a "Decoy Pin", which took the user into a seemingly innocent version of the phone. There you could find apps like Candy Crush, Facebook, Instagram, and Netflix. None of these apps were running or could be used.

 

When you entered a correct PIN code, the user was taken to a home screen where there were three applications: calculator, clock, and settings. Funny enough, there was no option to turn off location services via the settings.

 

The secret room

If you entered a specific calculation in the first app, you opened up an encrypted messaging service, which we now know was not actually encrypted and in fact, it was monitored by the FBI and other authorities around the world. In total, more than 27 million reports were collected and reviewed by the authorities over a period of 18 months.

 

Google launched Pixel 4a in August 2020, since police cooperation started earlier than that, there is reportedly also a 3a model with the same software. It is unclear whether other models or other manufacturers were also used.

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