Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Airtasker for the underworld: Criminals order murders, drive-bys, firebombings on secret app

Airtasker for the underworld: Criminals order murders, drive-bys, firebombings on secret app 

Murders, drive-by shootings and firebombings can now be ordered anonymously using a secure black market app that is like an Airtasker for the underworld.
The app, which came online only months ago, could be the missing link connecting a recent surge in seemingly random and unsolved violent crimes suspected to be connected to multiple ongoing feuds between gangland players and extortion rackets.
The system bears resemblance to the one depicted in the popular action franchise, John Wick, in which “hits” are digitally advertised to a network of assassins and payment goes to the successful hitman.

An underworld source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told this masthead that a new phone-based app had been created, allowing a select group of users to commission and pay for violent crimes anonymously using an encrypted platform based outside of Australia.
The app’s name is a closely guarded secret, but it has been referred to as a kind of Airtasker for criminals. Airtasker, which was founded in Sydney in 2012, is not involved at all in the criminal app – it just works in a similar way.
The source said the app was designed to be used by the underworld’s equivalent of “management”. Jobs are commissioned by high-ranked organised crime players and accepted by other senior players in charge of running underworld crews or gangs that are known to be capable and willing to execute violent crimes, such as firebombings, robberies, drive-by shootings and murders.

How the 'Airtasker' for the underworld app works

The app has been designed to limit the exposure of players to law enforcement by providing anonymity, compartmentalising information about crimes, and self-erasing data and the app itself if compromised by authorities.
Prospective members of the app have to be “verified” by another member before access is granted. After being accepted, the person is assigned a code name by the app’s administrators, keeping their identity secret from other members.
Any member can advertise a “job”, which can include placing contracts for murders, shootings, assaults, armed robberies, and supply of weapons and getaway cars.
The job post is visible to all members but contains no specific details of the target or timing.
If a potential contractor accepts the job, the gangland boss and the contractor move to a private encrypted communications platform such as Signal to negotiate the details of the job and the payment terms.
The anonymity of the code names means even the parties don’t know who they are dealing with.
The contractor then assigns someone on his crew to conduct the “mission” or subcontracts it out to another gangland player further down the chain in the underworld. The job can often be subcontracted multiple times outside the app.
Once the job is completed, the gangland boss pays the contractor via an anonymous secure payment method, such as cryptocurrency. A fee is also paid back to the app’s operators.
Only the app’s administrators know the real identities behind the pseudonyms, but the use of an outside encrypted chat app means that even they do not know the details of the job.
Any violation of the app’s terms of service – such as failure to complete the job or pay the contractor – results in a permanent ban of the member.
The underworld source said that law enforcement was aware of the app’s existence but had been unable to penetrate its secure encryption. The app also has an in-built self-destruct function that is activated if a code is not entered every 24 hours.
But even if authorities were able to obtain a working version of the app and a passcode, the jobs posted disappeared after an hour and other members were protected by their code names, the source said.
The server that hosts the app is located overseas.
The Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission all declined to comment when contacted by this masthead.
Encrypted communications apps such as Signal, WhatsApp and Wickr, and custom-built encrypted devices such as BlackBerry, Ghost Chat and Ciphr, have revolutionised the ability of organised crime groups to plot and execute drug trafficking and violent crimes, law enforcement says.
The one exception was the An0M system, a bespoke encrypted communication device developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Australian Federal Police in a sting operation that led to hundreds of arrests worldwide.
The NSW Crime Commission, which has sweeping powers to investigate serious and organised crime, said crime groups had adopted encrypted communications at an “unprecedented rate” in 2022-23.
“Organised violence is an increasingly professionalised industry, with a growing range of service providers available for hire,” the agency’s annual report said.
“Even though many current encryption solutions can be set up easily and at low cost, organised-crime entities seem to prefer to source pre-configured devices from trusted suppliers.
“Information available to the commission indicates that Australian organised crime groups have invested in the development of bespoke encrypted messaging applications for both their own in-house use and to sell to other syndicates.”