Following a Europe-wide operation by police forces, more than 800 criminals have been put behind bars and over two tons of drugs, several dozen guns, and £54 million in suspect cash have been seized. To enable this, the National Security Agency (NSA) worked in collaboration with police forces across Europe, including the Europol, to hack a texting application to obtain information about the criminals.
Dubbed 'Operation Venetic,' the mission took root in 2017 and entailed intercepting and decrypting messages on the allegedly secure texting app called EncroChat. By working over customized Android phones, the French app garnered over 60,000 users and provided features like the ability to send self-destructing messages and edit previously-sent messages.
A few months back, police were able to introduce malware into the app that decrypted and exposed the conversations and images of its users who were found to be openly discussing drug deals and other illegal operations on the platform. BBC wrote in its report that:
...the messaging system has been used as a "criminal marketplace" to co-ordinate the supply of Class A drugs across the world, and import weapons including assault rifles, sub-machine guns, shotguns, pistols and hand grenades.
Last month, reports started surfacing claiming that the app had been compromised by law enforcement agencies via malware. Around the same time, EncroChat sent out a message to its users stating that it can no longer guarantee security and anonymity on the platform.
Consequently, according to reports by police units, people started throwing away their phones but it was too little too late at that point. Law enforcement agencies and police moved swiftly to arrest over 800 criminals, including major crime figures, and seized over two tonnes of drugs, several dozen guns, and £54 million in suspect cash. In the wake of the operation, EncroChat has been shut down as well.