Police breaking into and snooping on the EncroChat encrypted messaging network has led to 6,558 arrests worldwide and nearly €740 million seized in criminal funds, according to cops in France and the Netherlands.
In 2020, the two countries led the effort to bust open the communications service, compromising the network’s servers and using that access to collect data from EncroChat handsets. These devices were customized Android-powered phones set up to communicate via the app and its encryption, and each one could be configured to wipe itself if a particular PIN was entered to unlock it, which miscreants could use just before they were arrested or give the code to a copper to enter after being detained. Sneaky.
The hardware was marketed to those willing to pay £1,500 for a six-month contract on what was claimed to be a totally secure messaging service.
Getting full access to the network’s infrastructure allowed the police to receive clear-text copies of users’ messages in real time, resulting in thousands of arrests as well as the seizure of hundreds of tons of drugs, and nearly a thousand guns and vehicles apiece, the team reported on Tuesday.
The operation also led to lawsuits as officers snooped through more than 60,000 accounts and arrested thousands, due to the legally murky nature of their EncroChat surveillance.
Police said the takedown has helped to prevent violent attacks, attempted murders, corruption, and large-scale drug transports. Critics and attorneys for those cuffed, however, argue the mass spying violates EU and UK laws and the evidence wasn’t obtained legally.
During a press conference today, French and Dutch authorities, along with Europol and Eurojust, announced the latest results of their EncroChat investigation.
The suspects arrested include 197 high-value targets, according to law enforcement. And to date criminals convicted because of their EncroChat messages will spend a collective 7,134 years behind bars.
Cops also seized €739.7 million in cash and €154.1 million frozen in assets or bank accounts since 2020. Drug busts include 30.5 million pills, 103.5 tons of cocaine, 163.4 tons of cannabis, and 3.3 tons of heroin seized, we’re told.
Additionally, the operation led to the seizure of 971 vehicles, 271 estates or homes, 83 boats, and 40 planes seized, along with 923 weapons, 21,750 rounds of ammunition and 68 explosives.
Since the EncroChat bust, European cops have put several other encrypted messaging apps in their crosshairs. This includes Sky EEC in March 2021. The comms service’s owner, Sky Global, closed up shop following raids in Belgium and the Netherlands on Sky ECC users and resellers.
Also in March 2021, American prosecutors indicted Sky Global chief exec Jean-Francois Eap for selling encrypted chat devices to drug dealers with the intent of helping them evade law enforcement.
Just last month, European police arrested three people in Belgrade described as “the biggest” drug lords in the Balkans in what cops chalked up to another win in dismantling Sky ECC.
Two other encrypted messaging services, EncroChat and ANOM, have also been infiltrated and shut down by police over the past few years. ®