Warning message that unleashed terror in the criminal world

When suspected drug traffickers received a message from EncroChat warning them that their phones had been hacked, few would have appreciated the full significance.

The warning message was sent to EncroChat users in June of last year and forwarded to ECHO weeks later.

By then, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and police forces across the country had everything they needed to dismantle some of the UK’s dominant criminal groups.

READ MORE:EncroChat drug dealers who won’t be home for Christmas

Since the penetrating weapons, transports of cocaine worth millions of pounds and huge sums of money have been taken from the streets.

The development has led police to the doorstep of some of the so-called Liverpool and Manchester crime bosses who controlled the supply of Class A drugs and firearms throughout the region.

In Merseyside, the police response to the EncroChat hack has been particularly deep. Certain notorious individuals, considered truly untouchable, have been compromised.

The warning sent to EncroChat customers on June 12 when the company realized they had been hacked

And in particular, the Huyton-based drug community, which relied so heavily on the EncroChat model, has been devastated.

The men who have orchestrated serious crimes in Merseyside since the 1990s now face very long periods of time in the prison system.

Reliable sources told ECHO that the warning message sent to Encro users last year created a feeling of “terror and paranoia” in the underworld.

So what happened?

Police had been familiar with the EncroChat telephone network for some time. However, detectives were unable to read the messages on the phone even when the handset was retrieved.

The expensive model of EncroChat offered users a phone in a phone. Only the owner could access the deep phone where the encrypted messages were sent and received.

And many criminals opted for a setting that deleted their Encro messages after they were sent. For veteran criminals, the system seemed to offer a highly secure way to discuss serious crimes.

The French gendarmerie and prosecutors had been investigating EncroChat since 2017. But in 2019, they developed a type of software that could bypass encryption.

The first phase of the hack was to send an update that placed the implant on every EncroChat handset in use.

The second phase consisted of using the implant to collect the messages.

However, once the data started arriving in the UK, authorities had to seek legal permission.

This involved the Crown Prosecutor’s Office requesting a European Investigation Order which was then approved by the High Court.

Conspiracy theories

The EncroChat hack was surrounded by inevitable speculation, with some people doubting the official version of events.

Some are suspicious of how the French police suddenly managed to hack the previously impenetrable phone software.

Members of the criminal community have suggested that highly controversial software called Pegasus could have been used to break into the EncroChat system.

Pegasus is a type of military grade software that can take over a phone. The operator behind the spyware can then read all messages, listen to phone calls, and track the user’s location.

The US government recently blacklisted the Israel-based NSO Group, which makes Pegasus.

This followed fears that autocratic states in the Middle East had used the software to target political opponents, activists and journalists.

The US Department of Commerce issued a statement that said, “Today’s action is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to put human rights at the center of US foreign policy, including working to stem the proliferation of digital tools used for law enforcement purposes. “

Despite the international controversy surrounding Pegasus, no evidence has yet emerged that links the software to the EncroChat hack.

The Huyton connection

Although the EncroChat hack has disrupted many criminal groups across Merseyside, there has been a disproportionate impact on criminals based in Huyton and West Derby.

In July, Jordan Alvis, Christopher Dentith and Jordan Quinn were all jailed following Operation Aquarium, the Merseyside Police’s own response to the Encro hack.

Alvis, 35, of Trent Close, West Derby, was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply ketamine and heroin and conspiracy to conceal criminal property.

Dentith, 29, of College View, Huyton, was sentenced to 17 years and three months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and heroin and possession of criminal property.

Jordan quinn
Jordan quinn

Quinn, 31, of Valiant Close, West Derby, was sentenced to 14 years and three months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, heroin and ketamine and possession of property criminals.

The three were the latest in a series of well-known Huyton and West Derby-area drug dealers to be jailed as a result of Operation Aquarium.

Once in a lifetime

A lawyer who has worked on a number of high profile EncroChat cases recently spoke to ECHO about the full significance of the EncroChat hack.

The well-respected QC, who asked not to be named, said: “So, with this particular operation, defendants are advised to plead guilty as soon as possible.

“The evidence is so overwhelming. We have defendants with photos of themselves, their homes and loved ones, which leaves them very little opportunity to say that the phone did not belong to them.

“But I think a key point here is that for the police it’s a once in a lifetime chance to hurt organized crime. This thing will work and it will work.

“It has really hurt the criminal community and a generation of criminals linked to these phones will pay the price for years to come.

“However, the flip side is that it won’t happen again anytime soon. Higher level criminals will continue to use encrypted phones, but they will never trust them in the same way.

“So the police will have to make the most of this opportunity because I see it as unique. “

Facts and figures

The NCA declined to comment on the points made in this particular story. However, a spokesperson told ECHO the latest figures released by the NCA regarding Operation Venetic.

Operation Venetic resulted in the arrest of 2,631 people, 1,384 charges and 260 convictions. Over 5,646 kg of Class A drugs and 8,789 kg of cannabis were seized. Police seized 165 firearms and 3,404 cartridges. Authorities also seized more than £ 75million in criminal money.

Anyone with information on crime can call the police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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