Date: 1 Nov 2018 Category : | Source: AirGap Anonymity Collective | Author: Graham Penrose

Gangsters with Blackberry’s & the Upsurge in “Intelligence Led” Busts

sensational story about the criminal use of encryption appeared across social media this week like it was a scoop. It wasn’t. But that’s the way it was portrayed.

For the uninformed it played directly into the narrative that encryption is bad and overwhelmingly used by those withquestionable motives or downright evil intentions.

So What Happened?

The headlines varied but basically Vincent Ramos the boss of Phantom Secure, a company whose website declares that it supplies “THE WORLDS MOST TRUSTED COMMUNICATION SERVICE” was arrested in California.

The company supplies or supplied a modded and allegedly zero knowledgehandset which is or was it claimed “Simple, effective and easy to use while highly secure, … recognized by government agencies and cyber experts as “Uncrackable” “.

All utter rubbish of course but if you are selling a high performance sports car to a guy who struggles with a gear change on a bicycle then who is to contradict you?

Imagine! Organised crime were using encrypted phones to communicate and those encrypted phones were being supplied by commercial outfits who knew.

Scoop? No.

“Buyer Beware” — What Did Phantom Secure Sell?

The sales bumf declared that the “Classic Phantom Secure Encrypted BlackBerry Device”, apparently proven “year after year”, (by whom is unstated) was light weight and easy to use and provided end to end encrypted messaging, in theory. The package included:

  1. Modified and Locked Down Device
  2. Secure Encrypted Device to Device Encrypted Messaging
  3. Anonymous Communication
  4. International Roaming
  5. 6 months Subscription Included

The “Phantom Secure Android Edition” made the laughable statement that it provided unmatched secure enterprise mobility from BlackBerry and the “best at rest” security on an Android KNOX device, which communicated over the Phantom Secure service.

Summarising, the company promised “totally anonymous, device-to-device encrypted communications, brought to you by a globally trusted and recognized secure communications service.

The problem with that is that it was not brought to the companies customers by anything approaching a globally trusted and recognized secure communications service because it was hosted on Blackberry Enterprise Service servers.

Blackberry executive chairman and chief executive officer John Chen recently said “Today’s encryption has got to the point where it’s rather difficult, even for ourselves, to break it, to break our own encryption… it’s not an easily breakable thing. We will only attempt to do that if we have the right court order. The fact that we will honor the court order doesn’t imply we could actually get it done.

This Phantom Secure Android version included:

  1. Modified and Locked Down Device
  2. Secure Encrypted Device to Device Encrypted Messaging
  3. Anonymous Communication
  4. KNOX hardware and software integrated device security
  5. Prive Encrypted Chat
  6. Compatible messaging with BB7 Devices
  7. International Roaming
  8. 6 months Subscription Included

Worthless Disclaimers & Hollow Promises

Phantom Secure, and many like them, take care to make various disclaimerswhich they seem to think are a get out of jail freecard and state in their “Legal Compliance” section that:

We are a law-abiding company that is permitted to deliver encrypted communication services to our clients in order for them to protect their communications, without having the ability to decrypt their communications.”

The statement in no way ensures that these kind of suppliers cannot be indicted on charges. What it does do is give the impression to prospective customers that the company can in some way guarantee that even in the face of a warrant they do not possess the ability to compromise the historic or future communications of their customer base either intentionally or unintentionally.

But in the case of Blackberry that is just not true. It is public knowledge since 2016 that Operation Clemenza by the RCMP allowed Canadian investigators to access consumer-grade phones from Blackberry where the decryption key is in the company’s (RIM) possession.

BlackBerry, however, also offers the option to run their BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) which allows clients to run their own network of phones, and keep possession of their own decryption key. And this is what Phantom Secure were doing but as far back as January 2016 Dutch police said that they were able to read encrypted messages sent on the custom, security-focused BlackBerry devices.

Also in December 2015 in the article “The Encryption Debate: a Way Forward,” on the official Blackberry blog INSIDE Blackberry the company wrote that “privacy and security form the crux of everything we do. However,our privacy commitmentdoes not extend to criminals.”

But isn’t criminality established after due process has taken place? Warrants do not prove criminality even if there is probable cause? Are RIM Blackberry qualified to make the distinctions?

Regardless they sold their BES products based on the claim that they would never be called upon to make the distinction because they had designed a product that was totally secure.

There are products which can guarantee this and even in the face of warrants are unable to provide logsmetadata, or encryption keys. But BES cannot. There lies one of the many significant problems that Mr. Ramos faces.

The disclaimer continues …

“Our service does not require personal information and has no back doors. In providing such a service we do understand that there will be a very small number of people that may use our service to do activities we do not support. We do not condone the use of our service for any type of illegal activities and if known we will terminate the use of our service without notice.”

“Considering this, requests for the contents of communications may arise from government agencies, which would require a valid search warrant from an agency with proper jurisdiction over Phantom Secure.”

“However, our response to such requests will be the content and identity of our clients are not stored on our server and that the content is encrypted data, which is indecipherable.”

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