The FBI’s honeypot Pixel 4a gets detailed in new report

Last month, authorities disclosed that the FBI and Australian Federal Police secretly operated an “encrypted device company” called “Anom.” The company sold 12,000 smartphones to criminal syndicates around the world. These were pitched as secure devices but were actually honeypot devices that routed all messages to an FBI-owned server. The disclosure was light on details, but now that it’s public, Anom phones are being unloaded on the secondary market. That means us normal people are finally getting a look at them, starting with this Vice article detailing one of the devices.

The FBI has basically weaponized what the Android modding community has been doing for years. Some Android phones have unlockable bootloaders, which let you wipe out the original operating system and replace it with your own build of an OS, called a custom ROM. The Anom device Vice got was a Google Pixel 4a, one of the most developer-friendly devices out there. The FBI’s custom ROM shows an “ArcaneOS” boot screen, and it replaced the normal Google Android distribution with the FBI’s skin of Android 10.

The FBI’s sales pitch to alleged criminals was that these were security-focused devices (so please use them to document your illegal activities!), and that involved a lot of fun security theater. A “pin scrambling” feature would swap around the order of the lock screen numbers so that no one could guess your code from screen smudges.

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