Thursday 2 July 2020 1:43 pm

Cracked encryption app leads to hundreds of arrests

Efforts by police to crack an encrypted messaging app used by criminals has led to the arrests of “iconic” figures of the British underworld.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) today said it had “successfully penetrated” Encrochat, a secure smartphone instant messaging app that was used by criminals to coordinate their activities.

The move has allowed police to make almost 750 arrests so far, along with seizing more than two tonnes of drugs, 77 guns and £54m in illicit cash.

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The NCA said it had been working with international partners for four years to crack Encrochat, which has 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 in the UK.

Two months ago, French and Dutch authorities infiltrated the platform and shared the data via Europol.

Covert monitoring of the app for the last three months is said to have prevented a number of murders, having made the most significant impact on organised crime in Europe to date.

“Together we’ve protected the public by arresting middle-tier criminals and the kingpins, the so-called iconic untouchables who have evaded law enforcement for years, and now we have the evidence to prosecute them,” said NCA director of investigations Nikki Holland.

The app provided features such as “self-destructing” messages that deleted themselves from the recipient’s phone after a period of time, and the ability to wipe the device if a specific four-digit code was typed in.

A large number of the arrests were made in London, where there were approximately 1,400 London-based users of Encrochat.

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In an operation named Eternal, the Metropolitan Police Service said a total of 110 people have been charged so far, and officers have seized more than £13.4m in cash — £5m of which was in one operation alone. This is the largest single cash seizure the Met has ever made.

Met commissioner Cressida Dick said: “This operation is the most significant activity, certainly in my career, we have ever carried out against serious and organised criminality across London.”