A series of police raids in Belgium have resulted in the apparent shutdown of the Sky ECC encrypted mobile phone network.
The Brussels Times reported that 1,500 police workers were sent on 200 overnight raids, mostly in the Antwerp area.
“Information gained from those conversations is what led to Tuesday’s historic operation, two years in the making,” it stated.
Police and prosecutors boasted of seizing 17 tonnes of cocaine and €1.2m during a post-raid press conference.
As the second major encrypted phone network to be shut down by police in Europe, Sky ECC’s seeming downfall has parallels with the Encrochat story, where French and Dutch police man-in-the-middle’d the encrypted phone network on suspicion it was being used mainly by organised criminals.
Sympathetic British judges later ruled that data in transit was legally the same as data in rest, as a way of evading defendants’ legal arguments that British police had outsourced illegal evidence-gathering methods to their continental counterparts, something existing laws were supposed to prohibit.
“Sky ECC became popular with drug criminals after its successor Encrochat was cracked in 2020 by French and Dutch investigators, who were able to intercept over 100 million messages sent via the app,” reported the Brussels Times. De Standaard added that the Sky ECC network was allegedly penetrated by law enforcement last year, in the wake of the Encrochat shutdown and arrests.
Firm fingers ‘fake phishing application’
Sky ECC itself was insistent that the police raids had nothing to do with it, however. In a press release distributed through a global newswire, the organisation claimed “a fake phishing application falsely branded as Sky ECC was illegally created, modified and side-loaded onto unsecure devices, and security features of authorized Sky ECC phones were eliminated in these bogus devices which were then sold through unauthorized channels.”
Jean-François Eap, the firm’s chief exec, went on to say that his platform “exists for the prevention of identity theft and hacking, the protection of personal privacy rights, and the secure operation of legitimate personal and business affairs.”
De Standaard reported that “at least one Antwerp criminal lawyer and a trainee lawyer have already been arrested who use Sky ECC” while also alleging it was the “favourite means of communication used by the big drug criminals in our country”.
Given its interest in cracking encryption, and the Encrochat criminal cases now working their way through the courts, we have asked Britain’s National Crime Agency whether it was involved. We will update this article if the agency responds. ®