800 arrests, 40 tons of drugs, and one backdoor, or what a phone startup gave the FBI, with Joseph Cox: Lock and Code S05E12

This week on the Lock and Code podcast…

This is a story about how the FBI got everything it wanted.

For decades, law enforcement and intelligence agencies across the world have lamented the availability of modern technology that allows suspected criminals to hide their communications from legal scrutiny. This long-standing debate has sometimes spilled into the public view, as it did in 2016, when the FBI demanded that Apple unlock an iPhone used during a terrorist attack in the California city of San Bernardino. Apple pushed back on the FBI’s request, arguing that the company could only retrieve data from the iPhone in question by writing new software with global consequences for security and privacy.

“The only way to get information—at least currently, the only way we know,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook, “would be to write a piece of software that we view as sort of the equivalent of cancer.”

The standoff held the public’s attention for months, until the FBI relied on a third party to crack into the device.

But just a couple of years later, the FBI had obtained an even bigger backdoor into the communication channels of underground crime networks around the world, and they did it almost entirely off the radar.

It all happened with the help of Anom, a budding company behind an allegedly “secure” phone that promised users a bevvy of secretive technological features, like end-to-end encrypted messaging, remote data wiping, secure storage vaults, and even voice scrambling. But, unbeknownst to Anom’s users, the entire company was a front for law enforcement. On Anom phones, every message, every photo, every piece of incriminating evidence, and every order to kill someone, was collected and delivered, in full view, to the FBI.

Today, on the Lock and Code podcast with host David Ruiz, we speak with 404 Media cofounder and investigative reporter Joseph Cox about the wild, true story of Anom. How did it work, was it “legal,” where did the FBI learn to run a tech startup, and why, amidst decades of debate, are some people ignoring the one real-life example of global forces successfully installing a backdoor into a company?

The public…and law enforcement, as well, [have] had to speculate about what a backdoor in a tech product would actually look like. Well, here’s the answer. This is literally what happens when there is a backdoor, and I find it crazy that not more people are paying attention to it.

Joseph Cox, author, Dark Wire, and 404 Media cofounder

Tune in today to listen to the full conversation.

Cox’s investigation into Anom, presented in his book titled Dark Wire, publishes June 4.

Show notes and credits:

Intro Music: “Spellbound” by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
Outro Music: “Good God” by Wowa (

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