Encrochat: Legal Advice & Information

25th February 2022 | Cyber crime|
Stephen Halloran headshot

Stephen Halloran

Director & Solicitor Advocate

In Brief

Over 1,000 people have been arrested in Europe in connection with EncroChat-related offences, with more cases going to court every week. If you are prosecuted for such a case, you should get in touch at the earliest possible opportunity.

Murder

What was EncroChat?

EncroChat was an encrypted communications network and service provider. It supplied phone handsets (termed ‘carbon units’), which had their GPS, camera and microphone functionalities disabled, in order to keep users’ communications secret.

Most users were drug traffickers, drug dealers or other types of criminal, including murderers, all of whom have an obvious interest in communicating in more secretive ways. The UK’s National Crime Agency said that they had seen no evidence of non-criminals using EncroChat. It had around 10,000 UK users and 50,000 on mainland Europe.

Released in late 2016, EncroChat’s IP address was traced back to France and web hosting company OVH. 

What was an EncroChat phone?

Most EncroChat phones (or Encrophones) were modified Android devices, primarily the BQ Aquaris X2, but also included some Samsung handsets. Other EncroChat phones were modified Blackberry models. 

Handsets were sold (for around £900) with pre-installed apps, which were designed specifically for secrecy. These apps included the Off-the-Record Messaging EncroChat app, the encrypted EncroTalk voice call service and EncroNotes, where criminals could store private notes.

Other functionality included a dummy Android home screen to give the appearance of a regular phone and a ‘kill code’ to erase all phone data quickly using a PIN number.

It’s not illegal to own a device like an Encrophone. Those Encrophone users who have been convicted were found guilty of offences uncovered by examining their use of Encrochat.

It is illegal, however, to fail to reveal a password or code that opens up access to electronic data requested using a section 49 notice.

How did EncroChat get hacked?

EncroChat was ‘hacked’ in May 2020, in a joint operation between the NCA, the French National Gendarmerie and Dutch police. They used a ‘technical tool’ on EncroChat’s French servers to infiltrate and spread malware throughout the network. That malware allowed authorities to read messages before they were sent and see lock screen passwords.

Operation Venetic was the British response to the hack, which immediately led to hundreds of arrests.

Does this mean the police or NCA have accessed my EncroChat conversations?

Potentially, yes, the police or NCA may have accessed your conversations.

Once EncroChat realised that their network had been infiltrated, they notified clients of the hack, saying: “Due to the level of sophistication of the 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.”

At that time, they estimated that 50% of their phones in Europe had been compromised.

Have there been arrests and convictions from the EncroChat hack?

With EncroChat used by criminals across Europe and in parts of the Middle East, there have been thousands of EncroChat arrests as a result of the hack, including more than 2,000 in the UK alone.

In the first year after the hack, 31 people were convicted as a result of EncroChat arrests, and sentenced to 366 years in prison.

In total, millions of pounds in cash have been seized, as well as tonnes of drugs and various assets.

Can EncroChat be used as evidence in court cases?

As a result of Operation Venetic and the EncroChat hack, there is currently a stream of EncroChat court cases, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic has held many up. Yet the use of EncroChat evidence in criminal trials is still being debated. 

There are various grounds for a possible EncroChat legal challenge, including:

Legality

It is likely that we will see test cases and challenges around how EncroChat evidence was obtained and disseminated to UK law enforcement agencies.

Attribution

Can the prosecution prove that the EncroChat handles relate to the accused parties?

Continuity

Is there a clear, traceable chain, showing how evidence was obtained?

Expert evidence

Technical experts may have insight into how evidence was obtained: could the malware used have affected the data in any way?

If any evidence is found to have been obtained illegally, cases may be dismissed entirely.

How should you respond to an EncroChat arrest?

No matter what the circumstances are, if you have been arrested, you will need expert legal representation. This is particularly important if your arrest is linked to EncroChat.

We have been instructed on EncroChat cases, giving us access to information that is not yet in the public domain. If you have been arrested in connection with EncroChat, get in touch as soon as possible, giving us time to prepare your case as carefully as we can.

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