Hundreds arrested after European police hack criminals' encrypted phone network


According to the UK National Crime Agency (NCA), EncroChat had roughly 60,000 users worldwide with 10,000 of them active only in the UK.

In Britain, police arrested 746 suspects, recovered more than 54 million pounds (59.8 million euros, $67.5 million) as well as 77 guns including an AK-47 assault rifle and 1,800 rounds of ammunition.

The EncroChat website, which supplied encrypted mobile phones to drug dealers and criminal syndicates, was infiltrated by French law enforcement over the last three years, leading to the arrest of many "untouchable" criminals across Europe this week.

French and Dutch police established the investigation with the help of Europol - the European Union agency for law enforcement cooperation - as well as the NCA.

These phones cost around £1,500 for a six-month contract.

The mass raids appeared to follow EncroChat realising they had been compromised on June 15th and sending a message to users "urging them to throw away their handsets" - just days after Scottish police had used EncroChat intel to shut down an illegal drugs laboratory in Rochester, England, and seize 28 million tablets of so-called "street valium" implicated in hundreds of deaths in Scotland.

Steve Jupp, chief constable for the National Police Chief's Council, further said that "by dismantling these groups, we have saved countless lives and protected communities across the United Kingdom".

"The platform targeted in this operation catered specifically to the needs of criminals", said Wil van Gemert, Europol's Deputy Executive Director.

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Vendors and privacy advocates have fought against such measures, arguing that the installation of any such backdoors could be abused by both criminals, unfriendly nation states, as well as law enforcement (see: Apple Blasts Judge's iPhone Backdoor Order).

"Eventually, it was possible to put a technical device in place to go beyond the encryption technique and have access to the users' correspondence", the Europol explained.

In addition, a large number of suspects have also been arrested in several countries which were not participating in the investigation, including in the UK, Sweden and Norway. France has not yet gone public with the results of the investigation on its territory.

Encrochat users alerted the encryption service to the possibility of an unseen malware infiltration after the instant wipe function stopped working.

"Encro" phones have been seized. Due to the level of sophisticaction of the attack and the malware code, we can no longer guarantee the security of your device.

Dutch and French police have broken into an encrypted communications network used by organized crime gangs, allowing them to "look over the shoulders" of criminals in real time as they planned drug trafficking, arms sales, assassinations and torture, officers announced Thursday.

Many of those arrested are said to form the "middle tier" of crime gangs while some are described as the "Mr and Mrs Bigs" of the underworld.