Investigation into encrypted phone network leads to 6,500 arrests

Investigation into encrypted phone network leads to 6,500 arrests

EncroChat was popular with criminals, but after it was taken down in 2020, law enforcement used evidence of the encrypted messages to crack down on organized crime in Europe.

(Photo by Sebastian Kahnert/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

Law enforcement in Europe say they have arrested more than 6,500 suspects after investigators hacked into an encrypted phone network popular with criminals.

In 2020, Europol helped take down(Opens in a new window) EncroChat, a company that offered modified smartphones to help offenders communicate securely over an encrypted network. On Tuesday, the agency offered an update on how it has been using evidence from the dismantled network to crack down on organized crime groups that relied on EncroChat for their schemes.

“Since the takedown, investigators have managed to intercept, share and analyze more than 115 million criminal conversations, by an estimated number of more than 60,000 users,” said Europol (Opens in a new window).

In the past three years, police in Europe have also arrested 6,558 suspects, 197 of whom were “high-value targets”, thanks to evidence recovered from the EncroChat network. In addition, investigators have seized or frozen assets totaling nearly 900 million euros ($986 million). Another 103 tons of cocaine and 163 tons of cannabis were also detained.

europol image

(Credit: Europol)

It’s an ironic result for users of EncroChat, which was designed precisely to help criminals protect their communications from the police. Europol said shutting down the network in 2020 helped stop “violent attacks, assassination attempts, corruption and large-scale drug transport, as well as obtain large-scale information on organized crime.”

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EncroChat offered modified Android and BlackBerry phones for around €1,000 and offered subscriptions at €1,500 for six months. Along with encrypted communications, the phones included a panic button that could wipe all data on the devices.

Police in Europe began investigating the encrypted phone network in 2017 after discovering that the phones were frequently used among members of organized crime. By 2020, police in France were able to infiltrate an EncroChat server and essentially infect it with spyware, giving them access to messages sent over the network. In June, the creators of EncroChat finally suspected they had been compromised and sent out a message notifying all customers that the encrypted phone network was being shut down permanently.

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