Too Anonymous To Prosecute? Survey And Interviews on Shadow Phones

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Mobile phones have become ubiquitous in our daily lives. They are in many cases the devices we spend the most time on, and the devices that keep us connected to our friends, loved ones and colleagues. While useful in many ways, mobile phones pose a significant threat to offenders. Indeed, mobile phones monitor location through GPS and can have spyware installed to monitor written, audio and video communications. For law enforcement, mobile phones represent a treasure throve of information that can lead to arrests and convictions. In response to this threat, offenders have adopted shadow phones also known as ghost phones, encrypted phones or PGP phones. These come in a variety of ways, and offer in most cases a hardware package stripped of microphones, cameras and GPS chips to prevent any kind of spying. They also come with encrypted messaging services, and many security features such as remote wipes based on time delays, secret PINs or remote triggers. Canada appears to be a central player in the underground economy for shadow phones as some of the main distributors of these phones have been living (and arrested) in Canada. The aim of this presentation is first to survey the current state of the art on shadow phones. We reviewed court decisions, news reports and scientific articles on shadow phones, and researched companies that are currently advertising shadow phones for sales. Through this survey, we aim to present how the latest technologies are being used to protect offenders, and how law enforcement has attacked these encrypted communication services in the past. An important part of the services is the software that comes installed on the phones. The lessons learned here are extremely valuable for all communication services that are trying to offer end to end encryption, and a higher level of privacy to their users. The second part of this presentation is an analysis of interviews that we have conducted with various actors involved in the prosecution and defense of offenders who use shadow phones. We present their perception of the effectiveness of these phones, and the challenges that they pose for the judicial system. There are here again many lessons to be learned about how the judicial system can handle emerging technologies, encryption, and the targeting of offenders both online and offline who use encryption.