Texts Claim Hack of Encrypted Phone Company Used by Hitmen

Messages allegedly sent to Encrochat users warned of a law enforcement takeover. Europol said it won’t comment on "ongoing operations."
June 19, 2020, 12:00pm
Encrochat
Image: YouTube

A series of text messages allegedly sent to users of Encrochat, a company which sells custom encrypted phones including to serious organized criminals, claim that law enforcement agencies have taken over some of the company's infrastructure.

The news highlights the encrypted phone industry, which does contain some companies that try to cater to legitimate clients, but which has repeatedly been linked to hitmen, drug traffickers, and other criminals.

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"Encros finished," a source in the encrypted phone industry told Motherboard, referring to Encrochat. Motherboard granted the source anonymity to protect them from retaliation from companies in an industry that has used physical violence against their competitors.

Do you know anything else about Encrochat? 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.

"Today we had our domain seized illegally by government entities(s) [sic]," a message allegedly sent to Encrochat users published by Dutch crime blog Crimesite reads. "They repurposed our domain to launch an attack to compromise the carbon units," it continues, referring to a particular type of Encrochat device. Motherboard could not independently verify any hack, nor could it verify that the message came from Encrochat.

Companies in the encrypted phone industry often try to ruin one another's reputations, likely in the hopes of poaching a rival's customer base. In 2018, an anonymously uploaded YouTube video claimed to show how it was possible to retrieve sensitive information from Encrochat phones. In response to that video, Encrochat filmed its own video of an attack allegedly on Samsung Knox, Samsung's security-focused operating system.

After these latest messages about an alleged law enforcement seizure, Encrochat has been silent, at least publicly. Encrochat did not respond to a request for comment.

"Encros finished."

"Due to the level of the sophistication of attack and the malware code, we can no longer guarantee the security of your device. We took immediate action on our network by disabling connectivity to combat the attack," the alleged message adds.

A spokesperson for Europol, Europe's law enforcement agency, told Motherboard "we are not commenting on ongoing operations" when asked if it was connected to any law enforcement action against Encrochat. The UK's National Crime Agency did not respond to the same questions.

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The source in the encrypted phone industry said that recently law enforcement agencies have raided criminal gangs throughout Europe that use Encrochat. A British hitman who assassinated another crime figure used an Encrochat phone. Local news outlet Gloucestershire Live reported last year that drug gangs in the county used Encrochat devices.

Encrypted phones themselves are either custom BlackBerries or Android phones that typically run a custom operating system with encrypted messaging apps installed. They often only communicate with other devices made by the same company, and have the GPS, camera, and microphone functionality physically removed from the phone.

Law enforcement have increasingly targeted encrypted phone companies. In 2016 Dutch authorities shutdown Ennetcom, another company in the space, and later managed to decrypt messages sent between the devices.

Last year Motherboard revealed how MPC, another company in the industry, didn't just sell devices to crime figures, but was created by two on-the-run drug kingpins known as The Brothers. Motherboard reported how Christopher Hughes, an MPC employee, lured crime blogger Martin Kok to the spot he was assassinated. This week authorities charged Hughes with Kok's murder.

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