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Encrochat Phones Hacked

02 July 2020

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Article by: Deepak Vij

In June 2020, it is believed that the National Crime Agency (NCA) and other international law enforcement agencies including Europol have successfully hacked into the Encrochat encrypted phones culminating in a large scale and coordinated operation across Europe resulting in a wave of arrests of many suspects involved in serious and organised crime and users of these devices.

The Dutch company renowned for selling secure and encrypted phones confirmed that its domain was seized illegally by government entities including those originating in the U.K, causing them to contact their many customers by text warning of the security compromise and asking them to power off and dispose of their devices immediately. Encrochat have apparently disabled connectivity to their network in an action to counter this sophisticated attack.

Apparently prior to the June 2020 hack, sophisticated malware installed on one of Encrochat’s ‘X2’ devices was discovered enabling the malware to conceal itself from detection, disable the phone’s factory settings, record the screen lock password and clone the application data.

If you are concerned about being arrested for any offence involving the use of an Encrochat phone or any other encrypted device or know someone who has been arrested, you should contact ABV Solicitors on 0344 5879996 immediately who can provide experienced and specialist legal advice in this area.

 ABV Solicitors have been instructed on many recent cases involving those who the police have arrested for the possession, use or association with these encrypted devices. It is likely that many arrests will unfold as a direct result of this law enforcement operation.

 With the assistance of some of the U. K’s most formidable barristers and phone experts, ABV Solicitors are at the forefront of considering the legality of this latest security hack and defending such cases.

 

Recent Cases

 The Court of Appeal have recently held the use of encrypted devices by organised crime groups as ‘sophisticated’ and used this fact as an aggravating feature when sentencing certain individuals.

Liverpool Crown Court heard in the case of R v Fellows and Boyle that encrypted Aquaris X Smartphones loaded with Encrochat were used during the commission of the murder of John Kinsella and Paul Massey. The police were unable to crack into these devices and view the messages they had sent to each other.

The recent Encrochat breach has resulting in the arrests of many individuals by Irish law enforcement agencies including Michael O’Loughlin who was arrested for conspiracy to commit murder and other serious offences. Many other individuals suspecting of being involved with serious drug offences have recently been apprehended.

 

Background

 Encrochat developed legal encrypted digital data platforms following privacy and human rights concerns, boasting that their devices were akin to communications between two people in an empty room. They were seen as one of the world’s most secure communications networks.

The phones were not used to make voice phone calls but were able to send secure text and picture messages through wifi rather than mobile network signals. The phone contained security features which enabled it to automatically encrypt and wipe its data unless a 15- digit password being correctly entered by the user.

The phone data was also able to be remotely erased from one user to another using a burn facility.  This timer count down facility would enable a user to force wipe their own messages from another user’s device. A set number of attempts of entering the secret PIN would also wipe any device data.

These expensive devices were able to communicate with other phones from the same company and have bespoke and unique security features including the ability to disable the GPS, microphone and camera.

This secure technology was very useful to persons including royalty, politicians, high network individuals, and executives who did not want their sensitive communications or data to be discovered.

The features of this technology also made it a useful tool for organised crime groups and individuals to ply their illicit trade. The purchasers of these phones are allocated a username thereby preventing association of the sim card or device to the customer account thereby guaranteeing anonymity.

This technology was the bane of law enforcement agencies being unable to gain access to the data on these devices used by these serious and organised crime groups. It seems that was the case until now.

Time will tell if this unauthorised access to Encrochat’s network and the obtaining of incriminating material from their devices will be classified as admissible evidence in the U.K courts or successfully challenged by the defence. ABV Solicitors are presently working on these legal submissions.

If you have concerns about the use of Encrochat or other encrypted phones and are worried about being arrested call ABV Solicitors immediately on 0344 587 9996 for confidential and specialist legal advice.

Deepak further discusses the contents of this article further on the Mail Online.

Article by Deepak Vij, a Partner and the head of the fraud and complex crime team at ABV Solicitors.

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