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Criminal crackdown: Police hack encrypted phone system, arrest 746, and seize £54 million in cash

Criminal crackdown: Police hack encrypted phone system, arrest 746, and seize £54 million in cash
The decryption of the EncroChat, a phone system thought to be unhackable, and used by criminals to solicit and discuss nefarious dealings, including murders and extortion plots, led to 746 arrests in the UK on Thursday.

Just like other EncroChat users, the suspects arrested reportedly paid £1,500 for a six-month contract with the service, granting access to a secure handset to send calls and images over wi-fi networks.

The service also provided myriad security-centric features such as self-destructing messages, allowing what EncroChat describes as “the electronic equivalent of a regular conversation between two people in an empty room.”

If one of the devices was compromised, a “kill-code text” could be sent to destroy any data stored on it. 

However, criminal plans were foiled after French authorities penetrated the EncroChat network some months ago. From that point on, investigators were presented with conversations detailing price lists, names of customers, and references to the large quantities of drugs the criminals sold, all while the criminals believed their communications were protected.

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One by one, European law enforcement began pulling culprits off the street. On June 20, it was reported that a Dublin man was arrested in Amsterdam after police raiding his flat recovered €1.12m of cocaine. Within a week, a message was sent out to EncroChat users stating that the encrypted devices had been compromised. 

By this time, however, it was too late, with Thursday’s avalanche of arrests following, thanks to information shared between the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and its peers on the continent.

The raid is Britain’s biggest-ever arrest sweep, and saw a staggering £54 million in cash, two tonnes of drugs and 77 firearms seized by officers across the country. The NCA said 746 suspects were arrested in total in the UK.

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The Metropolitan Police alone detained 132 people and seized more than £13.3 million in cash, along with machine guns and narcotics. The Met operation, codenamed Eternal, took in £5 million in one go – a record cash haul for the force.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the operation was the “most significant activity” the force had ever carried out against crime in London throughout her career.

“This operation has enabled us to target those at the top of the hierarchy and individuals we have known about for years but have not been able to tackle head-on,” Dick added.

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