How Police Secretly Took Over Encrochat

Police monitored a hundred million encrypted messages sent through Encrochat, a network used by career criminals to discuss drug deals, murders, and extortion plots.

Encrochat’s phones are essentially modified Android devices, with some models using the “BQ Aquaris X2,” an Android handset released in 2018 by a Spanish electronics company, according to the leaked documents. Encrochat took the base unit, installed its own encrypted messaging programs which route messages through the firm’s own servers, and even physically removed the GPS, camera, and microphone functionality from the phone. Encrochat’s phones also had a feature that would quickly wipe the device if the user entered a PIN, and ran two operating systems side-by-side. If a user wanted the device to appear innocuous, they booted into normal Android. If they wanted to return to their sensitive chats, they switched over to the Encrochat system. The company sold the phones on a subscription based model, costing thousands of dollars a year per device.

Encrochat sat in, controlling a sizable chunk of communications infrastructure for organized crime in Europe and several countries further afield. While a top-level Scottish drug trafficking organization created MPC and Phantom Secure’s customers included members of the Sinaloa drug cartel, Encrochat was particularly popular with gangsters across Europe.

“They [became] the ‘industry’ standard,” the inmate told Motherboard.

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