This was announced today by the Europol, who had achieved hack encrypted communications of the platform, used mainly by criminals and drug traffickers. The police managed to access hundreds of millions of encrypted messages, and in the UK alone they managed to arrest 746 suspects, seize 60 million euros, and confiscate 77 firearms and 2 tons of drugs. In the Netherlands they have seized 8 tons of cocaine and 1,200 kg of methamphetamine.
Thousands of arrests in recent months: some in Spain
One of the traffickers contacted Vice, who has published the story. Mark (false name), began to suspect that something was wrong when they began to arrest members of his gang, despite the fact that they used code names, and communicated with Encrochat’s encrypted mobiles. In those conversations there was no question about drug prices, names of buyers, types of drugs sold, etc., money laundering, planning murders, etc.
Throughout the last month, arrests of thousands of people have been taking place throughout Europe, including United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, France and the Netherlands, although they are also used outside Europe in countries of the Middle East. In fact, if we look at the latest press releases from the National Police in Spain, we see that in June many criminal networks were dismantled, including one of the largest dedicated to arms trafficking, another to the sale of illegal drugs, another to the trafficking of hashish with Africa, and also to several fugitives who ran networks from Malaga; probably using these mobiles.
The “fault” is with the French authorities, who got hack the Encrochat network and install a surveillance tool that gave them access to all messages. Thanks to this, they have spent months reading the messages, and have shared the messages with the authorities of each country in which these gangs operated.
The authorities have discovered invaluable information on how these gangs currently operate, including the operations of international organizations that cultivate and commercialize drugs, in addition to extortion, robbery, assault, etc. For example, they have discovered in great detail which channels organizations follow to launder money.
Encrochat charged thousands of dollars for “100% secure” communications
Precisely the service that claimed to be the safest on the market has turned out to be the least secure. The company claimed not to store any data or encryption key of the users, all communication being end-to-end. The company sold mobiles in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Madrid and Dubai, and did not follow a similar operation to other technology companies. The official website gives 404 error and has not loaded for a few hours, although yesterday it worked perfectly and showed all the advantages of its platform as we see in the following image:
According to the French authorities, 90% of clients using Encrochat in France were related to criminal activities. These phones were secretly sold in alleys as if they were drugs.
The mobiles were BQ Aquaris X2, manufactured by the Spanish company BQ and launched in 2018. Encrochat took these terminals, installed their encrypted apps with their own servers, and deactivated the microphone, cameras and GPS. They also added an option that allowed you to erase all the contents of the mobile phone by simply entering a PIN, and allowed you to run a double operating system to run normal Android and make it look like a “normal” mobile phone. The service cost thousands of dollars a year per device.
This case is reminiscent of Phantom Secure, the creator of which also sold “safe” mobile phones and ended up in jail after claiming to the authorities that it sold mobile phones to traffickers. This company operated a lot with Latin American cartels, like the one in Sinaloa, but Encrochat operated mainly in Europe, where it was the standard terminal used by practically all criminals.
Authorities infected mobile phones with malware
Encrochat’s mobiles were also infected with malware, which could register the messages before they were sent, in addition to being able to register the PIN and clone data from apps. Encrochat detected this malware in May because the function of resetting the mobile did not work because the malware deactivated it, and launched a patch to fix it, but soon the malware returned and more dangerous way, since now it could even change the PIN of the mobile.
For this reason, Encrochat sent a message to all its users warning them that they could be in danger, and warned KPN, the Dutch operator they use on their mobiles, to block connections to the server controlled by “hackers”. However, they could not guarantee that the new anti-malware update was not already tampered with, and they even began to suspect that KPN might be acting alongside the authorities. Therefore, they decided to stop operating and deactivated all SIMs and their network, warning their users to turn off their mobile phones and dispose of them.
However, it was too late, since the authorities had extracted information from thousands of users, with messages and photos. This huge blow to drugs across Europe has made ‘wholesale’ purchasing much more difficult as all networks are being dismantled by arrests and seizures, and those who have not been arrested are fleeing Europe and are without any type of mobile or digital connection.
Currently, there are other companies trying to occupy the throne of Encrochat, such as Omertà. Its name name means “law of silence”, used as a Sicilian code of honor that prevents reporting on a person’s criminal activities to avoid snitches. Omertà is even contacting former Encrochat clients to try to get his throne. We will see if it does not end up falling as it has happened to the previous two.