Operation VeneticMassive Blow to U.K. Organized Crime after Police Infiltrate Encrypted Communication Platform in U.K. Biggest Ever Police Operation

Published 2 July 2020

British law enforcement officials say they have made their biggest ever breakthrough against organized crime after hacking into an encrypted communications system used to plan drug deals and murder plots. Entire organized crime groups dismantled in Operation Venetic, which resulted in 746 arrests, and £54 million criminal cash, and over two tons of drugs seized so far.

U.K. law enforcement has made a massive breakthrough in the fight against serious and organized crime after the takedown of a bespoke encrypted global communication service used exclusively by criminals.

The U.K. National Crime Agency (NCA) said that EncroChat was one of the largest providers of encrypted communications and offered a secure mobile phone instant messaging service, but an international law enforcement team cracked the company’s encryption.

There were 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 users in the United Kingdom – the sole use was for coordinating and planning the distribution of illicit commodities, money laundering, and plotting to kill rival criminals.

NCA says that since 2016, it has been working with international law enforcement agencies to target EncroChat and other encrypted criminal communication platforms by sharing technical expertise and intelligence.

Two months ago, this collaboration resulted in NCA partners in France and the Netherlands infiltrating the platform. The data harvested was shared via Europol.

Unbeknown to users the NCA and the police have been monitoring their every move since then under Operation Venetic – the U.K. law enforcement response.

Simultaneously, European law enforcement agencies have also been targeting organized crime groups.

The EncroChat servers have now been shut down.

Operation Venetic is the biggest and most significant operation of its kind in the United Kingdom.

The NCA says that together with Regional Organized Crime Units (ROCUs) and police forces, a “huge hole” has been punched in the U.K. organized crime network by arresting 746 suspects and seizing:

  • Over £54 million in criminal cash
  • 77 firearms, including an AK47 assault rifle, sub machine guns, handguns, four grenades, and over 1,800 rounds of ammunition
  • More than two tons of Class A and B drugs
  • Over 28 million Etizolam pills (street Valium) from an illicit laboratory
  • 55 high value cars, and 73 luxury watches

In addition, a specialist NCA team, working closely with policing partners, has prevented rival gangs carrying out kidnappings and executions on the U.K. streets by successfully mitigating over 200 threats to life.

Organized crime groups in the United Kingdom have been using EncroChat, communicating freely believing the technology made them secure. The criminal group behind EncroChat operated from outside the United Kingdom.

On 13 June EncroChat realized the platform had been penetrated and sent a message to its users urging them to throw away their handsets.