The year that shook the underworld as fall out from EncroChat hack continues

Publication Date04 April 2021
It was in early April of 2020 that a team of Dutch and French investigators hacked into EncroChat, a sophisticated communications platform said by police to have been used by gangland.

Underworld figures bargained, plotted and traded through encrypted messages they believed would never be exposed.

But that mistaken confidence was torn apart by Operation Emma -the name of the Dutch and French initiative.

The British authorities were aware of the hack and ready to receive the information gathered from the 10,000 EncroChat devices believed to have been in use within its jurisdiction.

Over the past year detectives have analysed that data and carried out hundreds of arrests and seized huge numbers of guns, cash and drugs.

One year on from the investigation that left the international underworld -including figures on Merseyside - Sinister underworld in Huyton shakes as Encrochat hack shines a light on criminals, the ECHO looks back at what has happened so far.

How the hack unfolded after a discovery in northern France

The hack was prompted by the discovery of a server used to run EncroChat in the French city of Roubaix in late 2019.

This led to the formation of a joint investigation team by French and Dutch prosecutors and the development of software that could obtain data from the EncroChat-linked devices.

That team deployed it in their probe, named Operation Emma, and the National Crime Agency -the UK's highest profile crime-fighting force -was briefed.

The hack had two stages -an implant placed on every EncroChat device in the world, achieved through an update sent through the server discovered in France.

That collected the codenames the users went by and any messages or notes stored on their handsets.

The implant also identified Wi-Fi hotspots near each device -potentially crucial in identifying the locations handsets were used in and, therefore, who was using them.

The second part was the collection of chat messages sent across the network.

The data capture carried out by Operation Emma started on April 1 and the material was in the hands of UK investigators within days.

The raids that shook gangland

That data gave the National Crime Agency and local police forces unprecedented insight into the workings of the modern British and European underworld.

It detailed prices, tactics, slang and trade routes, gang connections, gun distribution networks and helped detectives begin to map out the top rung of UK criminals and their associates.

The data was a key to...

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