Using extra-secure custom BlackBerry phones remain a large part of the criminal work, and a new bust by the FBI gives us an example of how in-demand they are. According to report from Motherboard, the FBI has arrested Vincent Ramos, the founder of well-established phone mod seller Phantom Secure, for allegedly assisting criminal organizations that include the Sinaloa drug cartel.
The company has been accused of altering BlackBerry and Android devices to disable common features such as web browsing and camera, while at the same time adding Pretty Good Privacy for encrypted conversations. According to investigators, the company wasn’t turning a blind eye to the shady backgrounds of the customers because apparently, the company was fully aware of what was going on.
According to the report, undercover agents were running a sting operation not only heard Ramos say that buying one of his phones was “totally fine,” the phones were also modified “specifically” with keeping drug trafficking in mind. It even singled out Hong Kong and Panama as areas it thought would be “uncooperative” with authorities. According to a convicted Sinaloa cartel member, the gang had bought Phantom’s phones to conduct its drug trafficking business. The FBI has estimated that there were as many as 20,000 modified phones around the world with half of them in Australia and others selling in countries like Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela.
This situation gives us some insight to the dilemma with encrypted communication. While encryption provides us with the vital privacy preservation, there are also those individuals out there that exploit these encrypted communications to do shady business. Frankly, there’s no easy answer to this either. Officials have on multiple occasions asked for an encryption backdoor so that they can do their jobs, but has seen much resistance from both companies and people alike.