Police Crack Encrypted Network To Reach Crime Gangs

An international law enforcement operation has led to the cracking of the EncroChat Android phone network and the arrest of criminal gangs.

The Network

The France-based EncroChat network, which was discovered by the French National Gendarmerie in 2017, is an encrypted network for Android handsets with their GPS, camera and microphone functions disabled.  The handsets, which have reportedly sold for €1,000 each, plus €1,500 for a six-month contract have, until now, offered many criminals a secure, encrypted communications channel.  It has been reported that at the time the police were able to crack the channel, it had 10,000 users in the UK alone and a further 60,000 around Europe.

The Operation

“Operation Venetic”, the law enforcement operation to infiltrate and crack EncroChat involved French and Dutch police, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and Europol, the EU agency for law enforcement cooperation.  It has been reported that a team of over 500 NCA officers worked on Operation Venetic.

Arrests

The cracking of the network has, so far, reportedly led to the arrest of around 800 criminals across Europe.  It has been reported that two law enforcement officers were among those arrested.

The arrests have also netted the seizure of £54m in cash, 77 illegal firearms (including assault rifles and grenades), two tonnes of class A and B drugs, as well as 55 luxury cars and 73 luxury watches.

The Met

The Metropolitan Police were able to make a reported 171 arrests as part of the operation and to have seized £13.3m in cash. 

The Met reports on its website that those arrested in one investigation were “part of the most high-harm Organised Crime Group (OCG) in London, with long-standing links to violent crime and the importation of Class A drugs” where “central figures of this group lead lavish lifestyles and live in multi-million-pound properties with access to top of the range vehicles.”

Comparison Made To Enigma Code

Even though the circumstances and the resources available to the authorities are by no means the same, Nikki Holland, NCA director of investigations, highlighted the achievement and complexity of cracking the encrypted channel as being “akin to cracking the enigma code".

Just The Beginning

Even though Commissioner Cressida Dick said that the operation was the most significant ever carried out against serious and organised criminality across London, she also described it “just the beginning” and highlighted the fact that there are now many more people being investigated as a result.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Organised crime of the scale and nature that has been tackled by Operation Venetic poses a threat to businesses and society through crime, its proceeds, and its many impacts. Although some luxury goods businesses and property companies have clearly benefitted from some sales, many of which may have been innocently made via legitimate-looking fronts, the lavish lifestyle of some of the criminals caught by this operation has come to an abrupt end.

UK home secretaries Amber Rudd and now Priti Patel have been critics of how end-to-end encryption has protected the guilty as well as the innocent in some apps and channels, and the fact that an encrypted channel has been cracked sends a powerful warning message to criminals who may assume they are safe in their communications.  It may also send a veiled message to other legitimate end-to-end encrypted apps and channels about the future, how global agencies are able to act, and what they are capable of doing.