Europol announced that the takedown of the EncroChat encrypted chat network has led to the arrest of 6,558 people and the seizure of $979 million in illicit funds.
Europol announced that the dismantling of the encrypted chat network EncroChat has led to the arrest of over 6,558 individuals worldwide and the seizure of $979 million in criminal funds.
In July 2020, a joint operation conducted by European and British law enforcement agencies resulted in the arrest of hundreds of alleged drug dealers and other crooks. The police infiltrated the global network of the encrypted chatting app that was used by criminals involved in drug dealing, money laundering, extortions, and even murders.
Since 2017, the police have launched an investigation into phones that were used by criminals to secure their communications. The investigators discovered that the phones were running the EncroChat application, software provided by a company operating from servers in France.
Europol said that in early 2020, EncroChat was one of the largest providers of encrypted digital communication, one of the most popular in the criminal ecosystem. The handset and the services are offered for around £1,500 for a six-month subscription, it had 60,000 users worldwide.
French authorities opened a case at the EU Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust), towards the Netherlands in 2019
EncroChat phones are used to securely exchange data and messages with pre-loaded apps for secure instant messaging, VOIP calling. The application includes self-destruct messages and a ‘remote wipe’ feature to remotely wipe data on the handset in case of emergency.
French and Dutch police hacked into the network and analyzed millions of messages and hundreds of thousands of images in real-time.
Law enforcement agencies claimed to have cracked the encryption code of EncroChat in March and started penetrating the network from April 1, 2020. EncroChat discovered the hack on June 13 and urged its users to throw away their devices due to the ongoing operation conducted by the police.
European authorities successfully dismantled Encrochat and disrupted one of the key communication networks used by criminal organizations in Europe.
According to the press release published by Europol, since the dismantling, law enforcement intercepted, shared and analyzed over 115 million criminal conversations, involving over 60 000 users.
“User hotspots were prevalent in source and destination countries for the trade in illicit drugs, as well as in money laundering centres.” reads the press release.
“The information obtained by the French and Dutch authorities was shared with their counterparts in EU Member States and third countries, at their request. Based on accumulated figures from all authorities involved, this led to the following results, three years after the encryption was broken by law enforcement:
- 6 558 suspects arrested, including 197 High Value Targets
- 7 134 years of imprisonment of convicted criminals up to now
- EUR 739.7 million in cash seized
- EUR 154.1 million frozen in assets or bank accounts
- 30.5 million pills of chemical drugs seized
- 103.5 tonnes of cocaine seized
- 163.4 tonnes of cannabis seized
- 3.3 tonnes of heroin seized
- 971 vehicles seized
- 271 estates or homes seized
- 923 weapons seized, as well as 21 750 rounds of ammunition and 68 explosives
- 83 boats and 40 planes seized
EncroChat was selling crypto phones for around EUR 1 000 each, it was also offering subscriptions with worldwide coverage, at a cost of 1 500 EUR for a six-month period, with 24/7 support.
In March 2021, another joint operation conducted by the European police and coordinated by Europol lead to the arrest of at least 80 people after shutting down the Sky Global Sky ECC encrypted phone network used by organized crime groups. Sky ECC was chosen by many cybercriminals after the shutdown of EncroChat.
The police claimed to have compromised the Sky ECC network and eavesdropped on suspects’ communications.
According to the indictment, Sky Global employees allowed their customers to pay using digital currencies (i.e. Bitcoin) to anonimize the illegal transactions, protecting customers’ anonymity.
(SecurityAffairs – hacking, EncroChat)
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