OSIRIS Brief 0.46.0

Sting of the Century; Apple hands over data on Dems to FBI; someone broke the internet.

Law Enforcement Hoodwinks Crooks in US and Australia

Last week, criminals who went online to purchase“fully secure encrypted mobile phones” learned that they had purchased their devices from the FBI. The cooperative operation between the US and Australia netted hundreds of arrests across the globe of criminals involved in the narcotics trade. The sting operation also netted over 30 tons of drugs, hundreds of guns, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of currency.

The operation, codenamed Trojan Shield, was the culmination of three years of plotting. In 2018, the FBI dismantled Phantom Secure, a criminal organization that specialized in providing secure communications to criminal organizations. The FBI then recruited a confidential informant from within the Phantom Secure organization to develop a new app, called An0m to fill the gap left by Phantom Secure. Police in the US and Australia tricked criminals, including Australia’s most wanted criminal into promoting the app among criminals.

The An0m case should serve as a warning to both criminals and lawful technology users alike, that security is hard. As I argued in my research on terrorism, secrecy works in favor of police and government as much as it does criminals. The need to avoid all observation compelled criminals to seek out a tool from the FBI and the same protections against observation hid the FBI from the criminals. Ironically, many publicly available, legal mechanisms exist for lawful citizens to use, whose provenance is better established because their development is public.

Apple Gave FBI Dem's Metadata

The New York Times published a report claiming the Trump Department of Justice (DoJ) sought and received metadata on House Members in its attempt to root out leakers. The DoJ inspector general opened an investigation into the allegations. Apple, which admits complying with the request, denies it knew House members were targets of the subpoena. Both Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein deny knowledge of the subpoenas.

The subpoenas are simultaneously appalling and business as usual. Glenn Greenwald (rightly) points out two targets of the investigation Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell have been long-time supporters of expanded surveillance powers. Donald Trump lauded leaks on Hillary Clinton but pursued leakers, even to Congress.

The Internet Kind of Breaks

A “503 Service Unavailable” error message greeted some users of major websites in the US and UK for about an hour on Tuesday. The outage began when a user at Fastly, a cloud services company, changed Fastly’s settings interrupting service for millions. Within an hour of recognizing the problem, service had mostly returned to normal.

Fastly operates a “Content Delivery Network” (CDN), which caches (saves) information in many locations to that information easier to access for users around the world. Although some users experienced interruptions, the internet was never actually “broken,” content was merely harder to get. While it would be better to have no interruption at all, the problem was completely resolved in about an hour, which is still pretty good.


David Benson is a Professor of Strategy and National Security focusing on cyberstrategy and international relations. You can reach him at dbenson@osiriscodex.com.

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