UK police have arrested more than 700 people after successfully infiltrating a secure messaging system used by criminals to plan money laundering, the murder of rival criminals, and the sale of illegal goods.
The UK’s National Crime Agency announced Thursday it had seized more than £54 million (more than R900 million) in cash, two tonnes of drugs, 77 firearms including an AK47 rifle and sub machine guns, and arrested 746 people after cracking EncroChat. Other seized items included more than 38 million Etizolam pills, or street Valium, as well as 55 high-value cars and luxury watches.
The agency said it had disbanded “entire organised crime groups.”
The NCA described EncroChat as a provider of a secure messaging system that was run by a gang located outside of the UK and used exclusively by bad actors. The service had some 60,000 users, and 10,000 were located in the UK. Its servers have now been shut down.
The way criminals used the service was by paying around £1,500 (R28,000) for a phone which came pre-loaded with apps for instant messaging, the ability to make internet calls, and a kill code so the devices could be remotely wiped.
The NCA said EncroChat realised on June 13 it had been cracked, and sent a message to customers requesting them to throw away their devices.
It isn’t clear how law enforcement managed to crack EncroChat’s encryption, or what type of encryption the service used. Business Insider has requested clarification.
The agency said it worked with international crime agencies to infiltrate EncroChat, and that it was partners in the Netherlands and France who had cracked its encryption and shared data with Europol.
Police then monitored suspects on EncroChat for two months before making arrests.
The NCA’s director of investigations Nikki Holland said: “The infiltration of this command and control communication platform for the UK’s criminal marketplace is like having an inside person in every top organised crime group in the country.
“This is the broadest and deepest ever UK operation into serious organised crime.”