Encrochat Investigation Finds Corrupt Cops Leaking Information to Criminals

Beyond drug trafficking, the continuing investigations into users of the encrypted phone network Encrochat is increasing to corrupt officials.
September 17, 2020, 2:16pm
Encrochat
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After searching through some of the tens of millions of encrypted messages pulled from Encrochat devices, Dutch police have launched a new investigation team that will look specifically into corruption, the police force announced on Wednesday. In some cases authorities are looking to identify police who leaked information to organized criminals.

The news broadens the scope of the Encrochat investigations, which have focused heavily on drug trafficking and organized crime more generally. Earlier this year, French authorities hacked into Encrochat phones en masse to retrieve message content, and then shared those communications with various other law enforcement agencies.

"Criminal investigations into possible corruption are currently underway and there are likely to be more in the near future. In addition to investigations into drug trafficking and money laundering, investigations into corruption are also given top priority," Chief of Police Henk van Essen said in a Politie press release.

Do you know anything else about Encrochat or impacted cases? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on jfcox@jabber.ccc.de, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

Encrochat was an encrypted phone company that took base Android units, made physical alterations to them, and added its own software. Encrochat devices sent messages with end-to-end encryption, meaning only the intended recipient was supposed to be able to read them. The phones also had a remote wipe feature, letting users destroy communications if they lost physical control of the device, as well as a dual-boot system that let users open an innocuous looking operating system, or the second one containing their more sensitive information.

The phones were particularly popular with criminals, including drug traffickers and hitmen. There are indications Encrochat may have had legitimate users too, however.

Other Encrochat customers are allegedly those involved in corruption, including police themselves, the press release suggests. Van Essen said in the press release that corruption is "unmistakably present."

"Of course I also feel responsible. Especially when it comes to preventing corruption and other improper use of police information," Van Essen added.

"Criminal investigations into possible corruption are currently underway and there are likely to be more in the near future."

One of the sources for Motherboard's earlier investigation into the Encrochat operation, and who is not a law enforcement official but is close to criminal users of the encrypted phone network, previously said corrupt individuals used the devices.

Encrypted phone companies themselves have received information from law enforcement bodies in the past. During an investigation into Phantom Secure, which sold customized BlackBerries to the privacy conscious and then later criminals, authorities found that a top Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) official had provided the company with information.

On Tuesday, Motherboard published more details on the malware used to infect Encrochat devices. As well as message content, it could also harvest GPS locations, usernames, passwords, and more.