Last month, the FBI confirmed that, with the Australian Federal Police, they designed and sold a honeypot smartphone under the Anom brand. The devices were designed to appear super secure while actually providing a direct channel for law enforcement to watch all communications. Very little was revealed about the program, the devices, or the platform, but a few of the devices seem to have found their way onto the open market, with users being confused about what they have in their hands.
Fortunately, the tech world recognized what was happening immediately. Based on a forum post, we have learned that the Anom phones are an altered version of a Google Pixel 4a, while the accompanying ArcaneOS is simply a skinned Android 10.
There were a lot of obvious signs that something was up with this device. The first is one of the most important things to know about an Android device. Upon powering up the phone, the Secure Boot feature failed because the phone had been flashed. Because of this, it delayed the boot, showed an error message and a yellow exclamation point. This should absolutely have been a clue to criminals that this was a trick. But, more importantly, all users should know that if this shows up on your own phone and you have not flashed a custom ROM, something is very wrong so DO NOT USE IT.
The next big sign is hidden behind a trick "security" feature. When you do get ArcaneOS booted, you have to enter a PIN. One PIN brings you to a fake home screen with common apps, none of which work. These include things like Tinder and Facebook. If you enter a different PIN, it takes you to the real home screen, which has three apps: calculator, settings, and clock. The settings app is the stock Android settings app with a few options missing. These would be the ones that would make it easy to identify all of the apps, like the ones being used to steal data.
Behind the calculator app is supposed to be a highly encrypted, secure chat. However, all communications are actually sent and received through FBI servers, making it easy for agents to watch and track all chats. Other apps have done something similar, hiding certain photos and such behind a fake innocuous app. But this is the first time we know of the government doing it. And, I suspect, this will not be the last tie we see ArcaneOS and Anom phones in the wild, as there were around 12,000 sold.