Industry News

Belgian Police Crack Encrypted Chat App to Seize $1.65 Billion Worth of Cocaine

Police specialists in Belgium managed to crack an encrypted messaging service, revealing detailed information about cocaine shipments into Antwerp, Belgium.

Belgian police issued a statement this week saying they seized several shipments of cocaine with a street value of 1.4 billion euros ($1.65 billion) after cracking the encryption algorithm of Sky ECC, a supplier of modified phones designed for ultra-private communications.

Since Feb. 20, police systematically seized a total of 27.64 tons of cocaine at the port of Antwerp, including a record shipment of almost 11 tons overnight from 2-3 April, according to the statement, obtained by CNN.

“During a judicial investigation into a potential service criminal organization suspected of knowingly providing encrypted telephones to the criminal environment, police specialists managed to crack the encrypted messages from Sky ECC,” reads the statement.

“This data provides elements in current files, but also opened up new criminal offenses. The international smuggling of cocaine batches plays a prominent role in intercepted reports.”

The FBI recently seized Sky ECC’s website over alleged collusion with international crime rings. The company sold modified Nokia, Google, Apple and BlackBerry handsets stripped of their GPS capabilities, cameras and microphones, and preinstalled with the Sky ECC app, which leveraged elliptic-curve cryptography to secure communications between customers. One of its key features was ‘self-destruction’ of messages after a user-defined expiration period. It also enabled users to enter a ‘panic’ password to instantly wipe the device clean of its contents.

On March 12, 2021, US Department of Justice issued an indictment against Sky Global’s CEO, Jean-Francois Eap, and a former distributor, Thomas Herdman. The indictment states that the Sky Global’s devices are “specifically designed to prevent law enforcement from actively monitoring the communications between members of transnational criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. As part of its services, Sky Global guarantees that messages stored on its devices can and will be remotely deleted by the company if the device is seized by law enforcement or otherwise compromised.”

The police report doesn’t say how Belgian experts managed to break the elliptic-curve encryption algorithm employed by Sky ECC. However, it is known that when ECC is used in virtual machines, an attacker can use an invalid curve to get a complete PDH private key. And in the hypothetical realm, Shor’s algorithm can be used to break elliptic curve cryptography by computing discrete logarithms on a quantum computer, according to Wikipedia.

About the author

Filip TRUTA

Filip is an experienced writer with over a decade of practice in the technology realm. He has covered a wide range of topics in such industries as gaming, software, hardware and cyber-security, and has worked in various B2B and B2C marketing roles. Filip currently serves as Information Security Analyst with Bitdefender.