The British National Crime Agency (NCA) has made 746 arrests and dismantled dozens of organized crime groups after intercepting millions of encrypted text messages, BBC reports. Messages were sent through EncroChat, a subscription-based telephone system popular with professional criminals. The NCA said at a news conference on Thursday that the operation “has had the greatest impact on organized crime gangs it has ever seen.. ‘
European law enforcement agencies seem to have been following these talks for months. French police first hacked the network and deployed a “technical device” to penetrate EncroChat’s communications after discovering that some of its servers were hosted in the country. Authorities first cracked EncroChat’s encryption code in March and started receiving data in April.
According to an Motherboard reportthe agents conducted interviews, which participants believed were safe and private, around a wide range of crimes, including drug operations and money laundering.
EncroChat sold custom Android handsets with removed GPS, camera and microphone functionality. They were loaded with encrypted messaging apps and a secure secondary operating system (in addition to Android). The phones also came with a self-destruct feature that wipes the device if you enter a PIN.
The service had customers in 140 countries. Although it was billed as a legitimate platform, anonymous sources said Motherboard that it was widely used by criminal groups, including drug trafficking organizations, cartels and gangs, as well as hitmen and murderers.
EncroChat only noticed in May that its devices had been breached after some users noticed the erase function was not working. After trying to restore the features and monitor the malware, EncroChat shut down its SIM service and shut down the network advising customers to remove their devices.
Police have warned that more arrests will be made.
“This is just the beginning,” Dame Cressida Dick, London Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said at the conference. “We will disrupt organized criminal networks as a result of these operations for weeks and months and possibly years.”
According to Motherboard ‘sources, “the criminal world is in disarray” with some users throwing their phones away, some going completely offline and others trying to flee their country.