New Major Interventions To Block Encrypted Communications Of Criminal Networks

March 12, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

Authorities in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands have enabled major interventions to block the use of encrypted communications by large-scale organized crime groups. 

Judicial and law enforcement authorities from these countries worked closely with each other, supported by Europol and Eurojust. 

The monitoring of the illegal Sky ECC communication service tool by investigators in the three countries involved provided invaluable insights into hundreds of millions of messages exchanged between criminals.

This action led to the collection of information into more than a hundred large scale criminal operations, preventing potential loss of life. 

During an action on March 9 a large number of arrests were made, as well as numerous house searches and seizures in Belgium and the Netherlands, said a Europol release.

This action was part of an ongoing effort that previously resulted in the de-encryption of the EncroChat communication platform in 2020.

Many users of EncroChat migrated to the Sky ECC platform, but since then authorities have monitored in excess of 70,000 accounts on the new platform.

With Sky ECC communications being accessed, law enforcement agencies in the three countries have been on continuous standby during the last month in order to provide rapid reactions to criminal activity, if required.

Investigations into Sky ECC began when mobile phones seized from criminal suspects in Belgium revealed widespread use of the app. 

Globally, about 170,000 individuals used the Sky ECC app, which is operated from the United States and Canada, using servers based in Europe.

Daily, more than three million messages are exchanged on Sky ECC with about 20% of users being based in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Eurojust has provided advice and support regarding cross-border judicial cooperation and organized 12 coordination meetings to enable this collaboration. 

Eurojust, or the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, is based in the Hague, the Netherlands and was established with the aim of making Europe safer place by coordinating the work of national authorities in investigating and prosecuting transnational crime.

Eurojust has developed an international network that grants prosecutors around the European Union access to more than 50 jurisdictions worldwide. 

The Agency has signed cooperation agreements with a dozen non-EU states, several of which have seconded Liaison Prosecutors to Eurojust to work on cases with their counterparts.

The Eurojust Administration includes case analysts, legal advisors and data experts. The Agency’s premises provide secure meeting facilities with possibilities for interpretation into all EU languages and a meeting room developed for coordination centres, from which joint action days can be monitored and coordinated in real time.