When Police Hack the Hackers

Sometimes the police do some great tech work. This case does not appear to include any U.S. law enforcement agencies, but sometimes they don’t want any attention for a number of reasons.

This story starts with criminals using a specially modified phone that was designed to be more secure. The phone, called an EncroChat, has no camera, no microphone and no GPS. The phone costs about $1,100. The phone also provides global network coverage for about $1,600 for 6 months.

The phone provider promised anonymity, but they were, apparently, wrong.

The Dutch police figured out a way to hack these phones. Likely at the network level. This allowed them to read the messages of hundreds of criminals in real time.

I have no clue how this phone and network works, but anytime you trust your provider to manage encryption keys for you, there is a weakness. Just guessing, but that is probably how they got in.

The authorities were capturing messages for two months before they swooped in and they are still analyzing data. I bet there are some folks looking over their shoulder now.

SO FAR, the Brits have arrested 750 crooks, confiscated $67 million in cash, 77 firearms and over two tons of drugs.

But the Dutch police won the contest hands down. They arrested 60 people, but they were much better at the drug haul. Their haul includes 22,000 pounds of cocaine, 154 pounds of heroin and 3,300 pounds of crystal meth. They also found and disabled 19 drug labs and seized 25 vehicles.

Other countries were also involved and conducted their own arrests.

Based on what the cops say, this is not over yet. As they review more communications, they will go after other crooks.

I am neither a drug dealer nor user, so I have no idea about prices, but Google says that a pound of coke retails for about $10,000. Assuming that is even close, just the coke alone has a street price of a quarter billion dollars.

I am guessing some folks are not happy about losing that much “product”.

While sometimes we don’t have great things to say about law enforcement’s ability to deal with tech, here is a case where even though the tech was supposedly law enforcement proof, they did an amazing job, got some bad people off the streets and removed a significant amount of drugs from the supply chain. This happened against a backdrop of a U.S. Senate committee voting today on a bill that tries to do something about encryption. Perhaps they should talk to the Dutch authorities.

No one thinks this is the end of anything, but we will take any wins we can get.

On the other hand, if you are a crook, don’t assume your tech is unhackable and completely secure. 🙂 Credit: NY Times

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