Home Brussels Cryptophone firm and Belgian police clash over ‘cracked’ drug trafficker messages

Cryptophone firm and Belgian police clash over ‘cracked’ drug trafficker messages

by editor

Belgian police forcefully rejected claims they had failed to penetrate a secure network of phones as part of a massive operation to dismantle domestic drug cartels.

Encrypted communications firm Sky ECC on Wednesday said that Belgian authorities may have broken into counterfeit code to uncover a network of drug cartels — not Sky ECC’s as the Belgian police had claimed. The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, in charge of the investigation, said Sky ECC’s claims were “bullshit.”

For Belgian cops the bust, announced Tuesday, is the largest-ever judicial police operation against drug cartels in the country. So confident were the police that they broke Sky ECC’s code, they said they sent the firm their bank account details to claim a $5 million (€4.2 million) bug bounty Sky ECC promised to pay out to security researchers that had managed it.

The firm, which sells high-priced phones with encrypted chat applications and other features to manage and secure communications data, said “a fake phishing application falsely branded as Sky ECC was illegally created, modified and side-loaded onto unsecure devices” and “then sold through unauthorized channels.”

Sky ECC’s statement raises questions about the bust, particularly which phones and networks were broken into.

POLITICO could not independently verify Sky ECC’s claims.

The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, in charge of the investigation, dismissed the company’s defense as “bullshit” and reiterated that authorities had successfully decrypted messages on Sky ECC’s platform.

On Tuesday the police arrested dozens of people suspected to be a part of the country’s drug rings. Authorities accused Sky ECC of aiding the drug cartels, which allegedly used Sky ECC-branded phones and services to manage drug trafficking routes.

The Canada-based firm denied the police’s claims that its phones were the “platform of choice for criminals,” adding that it had “not been contacted by any investigative authority.”

A spokesperson for the Belgian prosecutor’s office could not immediately confirm whether police contacted the firm as part of the investigation but added the firm had a history of not cooperating with authorities.

Sky ECC said it will pursue “legal action against [individuals behind the counterfeit phones] for impersonation, false lights, trademark infringement, injurious falsehood, defamation, and fraud.”

Belgian police on Tuesday said it had managed to decrypt around half of the one billion messages it had intercepted on the platform since it began its investigation in 2018, adding it got help from Dutch law enforcement.

The investigation has been focused on the Port of Antwerp, Belgium’s hotspot for drug trafficking.

“The work is only starting,” a spokesperson for the Belgian judicial police had said Tuesday, adding that many more investigations were likely to follow as the decrypted messages yielded more leads.

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