What is EncroChat? All you need to know

16th October 2020 | Cyber Crime Insights & Resources|
Stephen Halloran headshot

Stephen Halloran

Managing Partner

In Brief

Over 700 people have so far been arrested and over £50 million in cash seized as a result of the UK’s largest ever law enforcement operation, which targets organised crime gangs smuggling drugs, laundering money and carrying out gangland executions. Suspects were identified and located as a result of the NCA’s infiltration of an encrypted messaging network called EncroChat, which  has now been shut down. Arrests continue to be made under Operation Venetic.

Details of the UK’s largest ever law enforcement operation have come to light during recent months, and have generated high levels of media coverage and public interest. Representing a major breakthrough in the fight against organised crime, the EncroChat investigation initially launched in April this year, ultimately leading to hundreds of arrests and the seizure of over £50 million in  cash. Involving every police force in the country and conducted in cooperation with law enforcement agencies across Europe, it is believed to be the most wide-ranging operation ever conducted against organised crime.

The legal experts at Lawtons have the experience and evidential expertise to deal with these types of complex cases. Here we explain what EncroChat is and why it is so significant.

What has the EncroChat operation been targeting?

The UK’s crime agencies and police forces are continuously engaged in a range of complex operations to tackle organised crime. What sets this operation apart is not only its scale but the fact that it has involved the successful infiltration of a bespoke encrypted global communications service, EncroChat, which is believed to have been used by criminal groups. While significant progress has been made so far, the operation continues.

What is EncroChat?

Used by 60,000 people worldwide, including 10,000 in the UK, EncroChat is an encrypted messaging provider set up in 2016. The NCA believes it to have been used  to plot the distribution of drugs and other illegal items, money laundering and related criminal activity.

The NCA has been working to target EncroChat since 2016 alongside a number of international law enforcement agencies, and in April successfully cracked EncroChat’s encryption, infiltrating the service and harvesting vast amounts of data which it shared with Europol. This raises ongoing questions about the supposed security of encrypted communications platforms.

Having collected this crucial data, the NCA was then able to identify and locate offenders through the analysis of millions of messages and hundreds of thousands of images. It passed intelligence packages to regional forces who were then able to launch their own investigations under the umbrella of Operation Venetic. 

How many arrests have been made as a result of the operation?

While the company that runs EncroChat was operating from outside the UK, many members of organised crime gangs – who believed they were able to use it securely and to operate under the radar of the authorities –  are based here. So far, 746 suspects have been arrested across the UK during the EncroChat investigation. The police have also made a large seizure of criminal property including:

  • £54 million in cash
  • 77 firearms including AK47 assault rifles and sub machine guns
  • 1,800 rounds of ammunition
  • Over 2 tonnes of class A and class B drugs
  • 28 million street valium pills from an illegal laboratory
  • 55 high value cars
  • 73 luxury watches

Is EncroChat still running?

All of EncroChat’s servers have now been shut down as a result of the operation. Users of EncroChat were not messaging on conventional smartphones, but pre-loaded devices with VOIP call functionality and a kill code which could instantly wipe them, and were sold on contracts which cost around £1,500 for six months.

The significance of EncroChat’s collapse can be seen not only in the number of arrests and seizures it has led to, but in the direct response of those targeted among their own networks when they realised that EncroChat had been compromised. The NCA has released messages which give some insight into the perceived seriousness of the situation on the part of the users, with messages from UK handsets including: “this year the police are winning”, “the police are having a field day” and “if NCA then we have a big problem”.

Arrests continue to be made, and the Crown Prosecution Service is leading all prosecutions stemming from the EncroChat investigation.

Have you been arrested or charged? 

If you, a family member or a friend are under investigation, on police bail or have been charged with offences relating to EncroChat, it is vital that you seek the highest standard of professional legal representation as soon as possible. At Lawtons we have the necessary expertise and experience to consider all evidence and work closely with you at every step. Complex evidential issues will flow from the use of evidence obtained by this investigation and working in conjunction with leading barristers, we can advise on finding the best possible outcome.

Do not hesitate to contact us today by calling 0333 577 0522.

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