Phantom Secure is one of the most infamous companies in the secure phone industry. Sources and court documents detail that its owner has been arrested for allegedly helping criminal organizations. They targeted Phantom Secure for deliberately selling drug cartels phones designed for criminal activity. According to the report, the FBI says that the company and CEO Vincent Ramos knew full well that their devices were being used in violent crimes. Crucially, the complaint alleges that Ramos and Phantom were not simply incidental to a crime, like Apple might be when a criminal uses an iPhone, but that the company was specifically created to facilitate criminal activity.
In addition to removing the microphone and camera from BlackBerry devices, Phantom also takes out GPS navigation, internet browsing, and normal messenger services, the complaint reads. Phantom then installs Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) software to send encrypted messages, and routes these messages through overseas servers, the complaint alleges. The complaint points to Hong Kong and Panama as countries “believed by PHANTOM SECURE to be uncooperative with law enforcement.” Phantom can also remotely wipe devices in the event they are seized by authorities.
Law enforcement agencies have cracked down on other encrypted phone companies allegedly catering to organised crime over the past few years. In 2016, Dutch investigators arrested the owner of Ennetcom, whose customers allegedly include hitmen, drug traffickers, and other serious criminals. And then in 2017, Dutch authorities also busted PGP Sure, which also allegedly catered to organized crime. They also claim to be able to break past encryption on PGP-enabled BlackBerry devices.
If it’s any consolation, police need physical access to crack these BlackBerrys. Their methods also aren’t completely reliable (a small batch couldn’t be cracked), and it’s uncertain that this will work with every single PGP implementation.