Belgian police has cracked the encryption on the popular communications app Sky ECC. The platform was very popular among criminals and was used to plan many illegal plots. The encryption crack allowed officers to raid 200 locations which resulted in many arrests. This operation is a big win for law enforcement as it has been 2 years in the making.
About Sky ECC
Sky ECC is a popular messaging app used by many criminals around the world. The app uses encryption and disables the microphone, camera and GPS of the device it is running on. After its largest competitor 'Encrochat' got hacked by Dutch and French police, most users migrated to Sky ECC. The 'Encrochat' hack resulted in over 100 arrests, the seizure of 8 tonnes of cocaine and $20 Million. Critics of Sky ECC claimed that over 90% of its users are criminals.
The Hack & Raids
The law enforcement cracked the app late last year. As a result, police has over a month to go through messages. In total, police intercepted over 1 billion messages. While doing so, they discovered over 70,000 criminal accounts, with more than 11,000 being Dutch. All of the information gathered by the police resulted in the deployment of 1,600 police officers. In total over 200 raids took place that resulted in at-least 48 arrests. The police did not release much more information. According to police, over 17 tonnes of cocaine have been seized and over 1.2 million Euros. Weapons, luxury vehicles and even police uniforms were also seized. The information gathered from the hack is expected to lead to many more arrests in the near future.
Although many Dutch and Belgian news articles wrote that the agencies managed to crack the encryption, Sky ECC has denied all that. According to the company, agents distributed a malicious version of the app, in the form of an APK. Such files are installed on android phones outside the google play store, thus the apps are not verified. This explanation does make sense since cracking encryption takes enormous resources months or years.
It is still unclear whether the encryption of Sky ECC has been compromised. Law enforcement agencies did not provide much information and the developers of the communications app denies all claims. Law enforcement investigations are expected to continue for months, with many arrests expected to follow. Sky ECC offered a 5 Million US dollar reward to anyone that managed to bypass their encryption. Their website was offline briefly after the breach. No one knows if Belgian authorities will make a claim.