Olliers’ Alex Close-Claughton explains what encrypted phones are, how they are used and what the EncroChat network is
The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) announced yesterday that they have gained access to the EncroChat network of encrypted phones. This has resulted in a large number of arrests across the UK with the NCA purporting to have disrupted multiple major organised crime networks.
The NCA’s claims that they have arrested some of the most senior organised criminals in the UK has caused a large amount of interest in encrypted communication and in light of this we look at the this area and try to answer some questions that readers may have.
What is encrypted communication?
Generally speaking encrypted communication are communications that are ‘scrambled’ as they are sent and only ‘unsrambled’ when they are received. For mobile phone communication to be encrypted it requires software in place that is able to encrypt the message on the senders phone and to decrypt the message on the receivers phone. Commonly used apps like Whatsapp use encryption like this. Encrypted communications cannot be intercepted by hackers but this also ‘locks out’ law enforcement agencies.
What are encrypted phones?
Many normal handsets are able to encrypt their own data but when people refer to encrypted phones they often mean something different. Encrypted phones are usually adapted mainstream handsets that use encrypted communication but have additional security measures and such as the removal of certain hardware as well as software that enables the rapid and sometimes remote deletion of memory.
Are encrypted phones illegal?
No they are not illegal in themselves. Some users simply use encrypted phones for privacy reasons. However the use of an encrypted phone is said to be the hallmark of a high level criminality, and clearly it is illegal to organise criminality on a encrypted handset just as it would be to do so on a normal handset. Encrypted phones are most company associated with drugs conspiracies.
What is EncroChat?
EncroChat is a mobile phone company that purports to provide modified mobile handsets that have had their microphones, cameras and GPS systems removed. The devices then have a special operating system and messaging software installed on them, which sends and receives encrypted messages. Some are only able to communicate with other phones on the network and have the provision for a code to be entered which with delete the encrypted chats.
How did EncroChat get hacked?
Reports suggest that a piece of malware was found on a user’s EncroChat phone which was reported to the company and resulted many users destroying their handsets. However it appears that this action was too late and the malware was in place to assist the NCA and other European law enforcement agencies in accessing the contents of millions of messages between a large number of suspects.
Have the police or NCA read my EncroChat ‘chats’?
If you are an EncroChat user that is concerned about the possibility that your messages may have been seen by a law enforcement agency then you should seek legal advice straight away. There is a possibility that the police or NCA have accessed your communications.
At Olliers Solicitors we have many years of experience of dealing with serious and organised crime cases and have an excellent track record in defending them. We have lawyers ready to talk to you and are able to provide high quality representation across England and Wales.