In a joint operation between several European police, an encrypted communication platform that was being used by thousands of criminals around the world was hacked. As a result, the authorities were able to access millions of messages that they otherwise would not be able to obtain. The success of the operation was announced at a press conference in The Hague, at the headquarters ofEurojust, Thergojudicial cooperation between European countries.
In the UK, 746 suspects were arrested following an analysis of the messages obtained. British police also managed to seize 77 firearms, 54 million pounds and several kilograms of narcotics. The platform hack in question, which goes by the name of Encrochat, also led to several dentenes in France, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. In the latter, 19 synthetic drug laboratories were dismantled, more than 100 suspects were arrested and about 8 thousand kilos of cocaine, 1.2 tons ofmethamphetamine, 25 cars and almost 25 million euros.
Encrochat was not just a messaging software, but a program for distributing modified smartphones that guaranteed greater security for the user. The company behind this scheme installed its own messaging software on the equipment, removed the GPS, the camera and the microphone, and included other features, such as the possibility to delete all the data on the phone with just a PIN. In practice, these phones served for little more than calls and messages. To access one of these devices, the user had to pay an annual subscription that amounted to thousands of euros.
The authorities began to collect information through Encrochat in early April, shortly after the decryption was completed. The method that allowed them to access the platform has not been revealed, but it is known that it has since been dismantled.
This type of encrypted communication platforms is not new. In 2018, the FBI arrested Vincent Ramos, the CEO of Phantom Secure, a company that marketed modified BlackBerry smartphones to drug cartel members. Ramos confessed to the crime and explained that the phones were adjusted to the needs of the traffickers, in order to facilitate the sale of drugs. If the phones were seized by the police, the technology could simply erase their content remotely.
Note that in the USA, a new bill is being studied to penalize companies that use end-to-end encryption. In theory, the legal initiative can criminally frame the activities of organizations like Encrochat and Phantom Secure, but the non-specificity of the law can complicate the lives of technologists who use this technology to make their applications more secure.