By: Joseph Sanford
Encryption technology has been getting more advanced and is allowing people to have more cybersecurity. This also goes for criminals who often use encryption to communicate with technology without having authorities determine what is being said. This is true with the latest news with Blackberry, Phantom Secure, and a Mexican drug cartel?
The chief executive of a company that created highly-secure smartphones allegedly used by some of the world’s most notorious criminals has been indicted. Canadian-based Phantom Secure made “tens of millions of dollars” selling the modified Blackberry devices for use by the likes of the Sinaloa Cartel, investigators said. The charges marked the first time US authorities have targeted a company for knowingly making encrypted technology for criminals. The Department of Justice arrested Vincent Ramos in Seattle last week. He was indicted on Thursday along with four associates. They are charged with racketeering and conspiracy to aid the distribution of drugs. Both crimes have a maximum penalty of life in prison. Mr. Ramos is the only one of the group currently in custody.
Mr. Braverman said Blackberry was not alone in having its handsets altered for illegal purposes. He added that while almost every smartphone on the market offers hard-to-crack encryption – as well as apps from Facebook, Google, and Apple – Phantom Secure should be held culpable for what the users of its services were doing.
Phantom Secure sold devices on a subscription basis at a cost of $2,000-$3,000 for around six months of use. In order to become a customer, an existing user must vouch for the new person. That system, authorities said, was a way of preventing law enforcement from getting hold of the devices. Agents estimated as many as 20,000 Phantom Secure-modified handsets are in use around the world.
Communications through the phones are automatically routed to servers in Panama and Hong Kong, according to court documents, making data more difficult to trace. Phantom Secure could also remove key functionality from the devices to lock them down, such as voice communication, microphone, GPS, camera, internet and messaging apps, leaving just the text functionality. Law enforcement authorities have repeatedly been frustrated by encryption technology making it harder to access communications between suspects.Privacy and open rights activists argue that removing or just weakening encryption would put everyone at risk of data theft and surveillance – not just criminals.