UK police have arrested over 700 suspects, seized US$67 Million and over two tons of drugs after an international team broke the encryption on a not-so-secure app used by gangsters to coordinate money laundering, black market trade, human trafficking and murder-for-hire, according to the Independent.
Known as EncroChat, it was used on bespoke mobile phones that were designed to be secure against police infiltration and examination.
"There were 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 users in the UK," said the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) of the ongoing raids. "The sole use was for coordinating and planning the distribution of illicit commodities, money laundering and plotting to kill rival criminals."
The secretive communications network was cracked in April, after agencies in France and the Netherlands cracked into the EncroChat app installed on mobile phones which was supposed to provide security against government infiltration and examination. Once the app was cracked, agencies began monitoring the gangsters' "every move" according to the NCA.
"It is the biggest and most significant operation of its kind in the UK," said a spokesperson.
Hundreds of staff worked to analyse the data and identify EncroChat users, working through millions of messages and hundreds of thousands of images.
It resulted in 746 arrests across the UK so far, including “high-value targets” and “iconic” fugitives who had previously escaped justice.
The operation has also revealed the identities of an unknown number of corrupt police officers and employees in different law enforcement agencies. -Independent
While EncroChat's website is no longer functional, an archived copy from March 2019 reveals features which attracted criminals, including self-destructing messages, panic wipe, password wipe, tamper proofing and 'guaranteed anonymity.'
The company described their 'flagship product' EncroChat as follows:
"It is a user-friendly secure instant messaging client designed for mobile environments. Security is guaranteed using our EncroChat Messaging Protocol. This is an end-to-end encryption messaging protocol which provides excellent forward and future secrecy properties for symmetric-key updating, along with improved deniability guarantees over the OTR protocol and its variants. We have also vastly simplified user verification to remove the complexities of encryption for end users." -EncroChat
According to the report, EncroChat phones were used by the "middle tier upwards" when it came to gangsters who "get their hands dirty."
According to Steve Jupp, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for serious organised crime, the operation is "an unparalleled victory against the kingpin criminals."
"By dismantling these groups, we have saved countless lives and protected communities across the UK," he added.
In addition to the cash and drugs, raids produced 77 firearms and grenades and 1,800 rounds of ammunition.
We imagine there's a very nervous software engineer or two out there...