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What are Encrypted phones and Encrochat?

View profile for Scott Bowen
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What is the background?

Encrypted phones have been big news lately. These handsets are purchased with encrypted sim cards for thousands of pounds. Generally, the encrypted phones are limited to calling and messaging other encrypted handsets. Whilst the use of such devices is limited, their benefit of course was their confidentiality and the security users believed they provided. 

What is Encrochat?

There are a number of different devices and number of different providers worldwide. All the major news outlets have been reporting that the National Crime Agency (NCA) have been able to access phones using the French based Encrochat system. That is correct, but this appears to be only the tip of the iceberg. 

Why are Law Enforcement Agencies involved?

It is speculated that Organised Criminal Groups worldwide have used encrypted devices and Encrochat to coordinate their activities.

How wide is the Law Enforcement operation?

Whilst the NCA have been carrying out their own investigations in the United Kingdom, they were one of many law enforcement agencies worldwide targeting encryption and encrypted calls/messaging. In Europe, the investigation appears to have been instigated by Europol, along with French and Dutch Police.

European Law Enforcement agencies appear to have focussed on the French based Encrochat system; following co-ordinated operations, they have accessed Encrochat servers and message logs.

Encrochat is rumoured to have had close to 60,000 subscribers. It is believed approximately 10,000 people in the United Kingdom used Encrochat. Read more about it here.

Whilst there has been data exposure of encrypted phone companies previously, what is now becoming apparent is the sheer scope of this worldwide operation. Court orders have been granted in Canada granting access to servers based there which may well have led to the operations in Europe. 

What happened to Encrochat?

It appears Encrochat realised they were being hacked. Updates were launched to try and overturn the breach, but the malware only intensified.

Once Encrochat realised they could not prevent the hack, they could only warn users that there had been a data breach that they had failed to stop and advise their clients to dispose of their devices. Of course, at that time, Law Enforcement Agencies already had access to millions of messages from tens of thousands of handsets.

Encrochat’s rivals are of course now trying to take advantage and trying to fill the void caused by Encrochat effectively shutting down overnight.

What now?

The NCA having scrutinised this encrypted information, have already launched numerous operations and made over 100 arrests involving every police force in the country. The NCA has openly stated that this is only the beginning, with operations anticipated to last for the next few months, possibly even years.

How HPJV Solicitors can help

We at HPJV solicitors already have experience of these operations. We have already dealt with interviews under caution for clients arrested with alleged encrypted phones. We are closely scrutinising the legality of what appears to be a world-wide hack. Challenges are likely to be made in many cases as to the admissibility of this encrypted information and we believe this evidence will inevitably require rulings from the highest Courts in England and Wales.

We are working closely with data experts to mount legal challenges once further disclosure is received as to how access was obtained to the encrypted information. Such challenges are of course likely to be strongly opposed by Law Enforcement Agencies and be high profile cases.

If you have been affected by this data breach and are concerned that you or someone you know may be arrested or has been arrested, please do not hesitate to contact our Criminal Law Department. Please call 01633 242526 to arrange a telephone appointment or email enquiries@hpjv.co.uk