Gangsters using new generation of phones after Encrochat hack

Elite criminals are using a new generation of encrypted devices as a result of the Encrochat hack, it has been claimed.

Encrochat, the encrypted phone network used by criminals across the UK and Europe was penetrated during a massive police operation last year.

The penetration, known in the UK as Operation Venetic, had led to over 60 arrests on Merseyside. The force has also recovered loaded firearms, 45 kilos of Class A drugs and £1.3 million in cash across Merseyside.

A number of established drug dealers from across Merseyside are now serving out prison sentences as a result of Venetic.

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Crime hubs across the UK have been dismantled and some of the country's leading criminals have been compromised.

The major breakthrough arrived toward the end of 2019 when French police discovered that the Encrochat server was based in Roubaix

Software was then developed which could gain entry to the server and to the encrypted phone network.

An implant was then sent to all Encrochat handsets, and then police were able to begin collecting the messages sent on the phones.

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The ECHO understands how the success of the Encrochat hack created panic in the city's underworld as crime bosses scrambled to protect themselves from the National Crime Agency led investigation.

However a leading criminal solicitor has now said that organised crime groups had already started responding successfully to Operation Venetic.

Julian Richards, head of complex crime at Reeds Solicitors, said that some criminals were now using a new generation of devices to communicate with each other.

Undated handout photo issued by the Metropolitan Police of a firearm and ammunition seized in Operation Venetic, an investigation on Encrochat, a military-grade encrypted communication system used by organised criminals trading in drugs and guns. PA Photo.

Mr Richards said: "Yes I am aware that criminals are now using new encrypted devices in the wake of the Encrochat hack. "

Mr Richards, who has knowledge of the crime scene on Merseyside, explained that criminals were using the devices in a different way.

He said: "The one thing we do know about organised crime is its ability to change shape and react accordingly. Criminals have seen what has happened with Encrochat and will respond accordingly.

"We know they will be a lot more circumspect when communicating with each other on these devices.

"I also think that criminals will want to use devices where the servers are based in countries where they are less likely to be compromised by the police. So yes that could Eastern Europe, Dubai or even Thailand. "

Mr Richards said that although Venetic had been a successful police operation, it would not derail organised crime in the long term.

He said: "The drug business is just too big to let this get in the way of money making. Organised crime will react, change shape and move on from the Encrochat situation."

Mr Richards said that cocaine was now a mainstream drug in the UK.

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He said: "In the 1980s cocaine was a bit of a niche market focused toward middle class professionals and the affluent. Now it is a working class drug used by everyone from students to builders. It's a mainstream drug and demand exceeds supply."

Mr Richards said there was no mystery around why people became involved in organised crime.

He said: " The profits associated with drug trade draw people in from all walks of life. That is why they do it."

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Mr Richards said that Operation Venetic had provided an interesting portrait of organised crime in the UK.

He said: "Some of the people caught up in all of this were not really on the radar of police and other agencies. They were very low profile but obviously involved in serious crime."

In January Merseyside Police Assistant Chief Constable Ian Critchley said that the force was determined to capitalise on the success of Operation Venetic.

He said: "He said: “Operation Venetic is a massive regional, national and international investigation, and one which we firmly believe will continue to have a hugely positive impact on the serious and organised crime landscape.

"We’ll share each and every success as these offences begin to move through the courts.

“As part of Operation Venetic, Merseyside Police has so far arrested more than 60 people, of which 35 have been charged with serious drug trafficking or firearms offences.

"This year will see a number of these people appearing for trial or sentence.

“We have also seized around 45 kilos of Class A drugs, £1.3 million in cash and recovered three firearms with ammunition. We’re working closely alongside our partners in the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) in these and other investigations.

“We continue to identify and detain those who seek to evade justice, regardless of their locations, and we’ll continue to use all available powers and work alongside our law enforcement partners to bring to justice criminals who impact on our communities and beyond.

" This work includes wanted appeals here and elsewhere, and partnership work with all available agencies."

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