EncroChat Shutdown Results In Thousands Of Arrests

Europol says 2020 takedown of EncroChat has so far resulted in 6,558 arrests worldwide, including nearly 200 high value targets

Organised crime has been dealt a hefty blow after the takedown of the secure messaging system called EncroChat three years ago.

Europol and agencies in the UK and other countries had infiltrated France-based EncroChat in June 2020, and cracked its encryption, which at the time resulted in the arrest of 746 suspected criminals, and the seizure of two tonnes of drugs, as well as 77 guns (including AK47s) and £54m in ‘criminal cash’.

Now three years later, Europol has provided an update in which it confirmed that the dismantling of EncroChat, has so far led to 6,558 arrests worldwide. And Europol said 197 of those arrested were High Value Targets.

Europol HQ, The Hague

Thousands arrested

These statistics were revealed in the first review of EncroChat that was presented on Tuesday by the French and Dutch judicial and law enforcement authorities in Lille.

Besides the thousands of arrests, close to 900 million euros ($980 million) in criminal funds have now also been seized or frozen.

Europol said that the June 2020 dismantling of EncroChat had sent shockwaves across OCGs (organised crime groups) in Europe and beyond.

It added that the takedown “helped to prevent violent attacks, attempted murders, corruption and large-scale drug transports, as well as obtain large-scale information on organised crime.”

Europol said that EncroChat had been used by organised crime groups around the world, and since the dismantling, investigators managed to intercept, share and analyse over 115 million criminal conversations, by an estimated number of over 60 000 users around the world.

The UK’s National Crime Agency had previously estimated that EncroChat had around 10,000 users in the UK.

The information obtained by the French and Dutch authorities was shared with their counterparts in EU Member States and third countries, at their request, said Europol.

It said based on accumulated figures, this led to the following results:

  • 6,558 suspects arrested, including 197 High Value Targets;
  • 7,134 years of imprisonment of convicted criminals up to now;
  • EUR 739.7 million in cash seized;
  • EUR 154.1 million frozen in assets or bank accounts;
  • 30.5 million pills of chemical drugs seized;
  • 103.5 tonnes of cocaine seized;
  • 163.4 tonnes of cannabis seized;
  • 3.3 tonnes of heroin seized;
  • 971 vehicles seized;
  • 271 estates or homes seized;
  • 923 weapons seized, as well as 21 750 rounds of ammunition and 68 explosives;
  • 83 boats and 40 planes seized.

Criminal usage

Europol said that EncroChat phones were presented as guaranteeing perfect anonymity, discretion and no traceability to users.

EncroChat phones also had functions intended to ensure the automatic deletion of messages and a specific PIN code to delete all data on the device. This would allow users to quickly erase compromising messages, for example at the time of arrest by the police.

In addition, the device could be erased from a distance by the reseller/helpdesk. Europol said that EncroChat sold cryptotelephones for around 1,000 euros each, on an international scale. It also offered subscriptions with worldwide coverage, at a cost of 1,500 eurors for a six-month period, with 24/7 support.

It should be noted that the EncroChat takedown in 2020 was significant, as it was an official admission that law enforcement were able to crack the encryption of the platform, and confirmed long standing suspicion that authorities do have the ability to crack some forms of encryption.

Back in 2013, leaks from Edward Snowden hinted that US and UK intelligence agencies had covertly implanted zero-day flaws in widely used security software and had broken encryption used by the most popular websites and online services.

It is rumoured the American NSA and British GCHQ have the supercomputing power to crack 512-bit encryption in just a few minutes.

The NSA is widely believed to be capable of breaking 1024-bit encryption as well.