Federal Bureau of Investigation arrests CEO who allegedly sold modded phones to criminals

Federal Bureau of Investigation arrests CEO who allegedly sold modded phones to criminals

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As reported by Motherboard, founder and CEO of Canada-based firm Phantom, Vincent Ramos, has been charged with racketeering, conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs, conspiracy to distribute narcotics, and aiding and abetting.

Phantom Secure is a company known for selling customized BlackBerry models.

Working alongside Australian and Canadian law enforcement officials, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Canadian national Vincent Ramos, CEO of encryption company Phantom Secure, on Thursday for allegedly providing worldwide criminal organizations with customized phones intended explicitly to circumvent surveillance efforts.

The FBI argues that Ramos knew exactly how his phones were being used, and in fact created Phantom for the objective of facilitating criminal activity.

Whereas the standard BlackBerry handset is sold to the public with all the customary smartphone functionalities, PHANTOM marketing materials state that when PHANTOM SECURE receives the BlackBerry handsets, its technical team removes the hardware and software responsible for all external architecture, including voice communication, microphone, Global Positioning System navigation, camera, Internet, and Messenger service.

Police agencies across the world have quietly been battling encryption services like this for almost a decade, even going toe-to-toe with Apple in search of a security backdoor to their products. The aiding and abetting charge comes from said witness, who allegedly used a Phantom phone when organizing the transport of five kilograms of cocaine.

Undercover agents, running a sting operation, met with Ramos in Las Vegas last February, according to the complaint. Ramos is on record as saying "We made it--we made it specifically for this [drug trafficking] too", to undercover agents.

Phantom promises phones that let users go "off the grid" by removing cameras and microphones from their devices, and installing software called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) that reroutes messages overseas through private, encrypted networks. FBI Special Agent Nicholas Cheviron believes there are 20,000 Phantom phones in use around the world, half of which are in Australia, earning tens of millions of dollars for the company. Canada's Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) assisted by posing as drug traffickers while purchasing Phantom phones, asking if sending messages like "sending MDMA to Montreal" would be safe (Phantom said it was "totally fine"), and pretending that an associate with incriminating evidence had been arrested and required a remote wipe.

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