A joint operation headed by European and British law agencies dismantled the Encrochat messaging service, leading to the arrests of more than 100 people as well as the seizure of numerous weapons and ammunitions, drugs and millions in criminal funds.
Encrochat was an instant messaging service with a twist. It was an application deployed on custom-build Android devices that had the camera, microphone and GPS removed. The idea was to make it difficult for law enforcement to track the users.
The devices were running dual operating systems, and allowed users to wipe data remotely if they lost the devices. These services were not cheap, with each device costing around €1,500 for six months of operation. Encrochat had around 60,000 users globally, including 10,000 in the UK.
Law enforcement agencies managed to crack Encrochat, allowing them to intercept, share and analyze millions of messages exchanged between criminals to plan serious crimes. In fact, the messages were read in real-time, allowing law enforcement to prevent serious crimes.
“A large number of suspects have also been arrested in several countries which were not participating in the JIT but particularly affected by the illegal use of these phones by individuals active in organised crime, including in the UK, Sweden and Norway. Many of these investigations were connected with international drug trafficking and violent criminal activities,” says Europol.
Only in the Netherlands, for example, more than 100 suspects were arrested, 8,000 kilogram of cocaine and 1,200 kilograms of crystal meth were seized along with €20 million in cash and 19 synthetic drugs labs were dismantled.
The entire operation only ended on June 13, when the developers of EncroChat figured out their platform had been hacked and sent a message to all its users with the advice to immediately throw away the phones.