About sharing media captionThe BBC's Tom Chag is shown how a customised Android phone with Encrochat installed works A top-secret communications system used by criminals to trade drugs and guns has been "successfully penetrated", says the National Crime Agency. Major crime figures were among just Europe-wide arrests after messages on EncroChat chat intercepted and decoded. While the NCA was part of the investigation, it was initiated fhat led by French and Dutch police, and also involved Europol - the EU agency for law enforcement cooperation.
Wil van Gemert, deputy executive director of Europol, told a press conference in the Hague that the hacking of the network had allowed the "disruption of criminal activities including violent attacks, corruption, attempted murders and large-scale drug transports". She said: "This is just the beginning.
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We will be disrupting organised criminal networks as a result of these operations for weeks and months and possibly years to come. The system operated on customised Android phones and, according to its website, provided "worry-free secure communications".
Customers had access to features such as self-destructing messages that deleted from the recipient's device after a certain length of time. The NCA says 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.
Law enforcement agencies began getting data from the site on 1 April after the encryption code is believed to have been cracked in March. Gangs are also believed to have used the handheld devices to cyat attacks on rival groups, plan ways of enforcing drug debts and arrange for money to be laundered.
Threats to life detailed on the site included acid attacks and threats to chop off limbs. Dozens of organised crime groups have been dismantled, says the NCA, with the bulk of arrests in London and north-west England. Lockdown "worked in our favour", says the agency, in that many more suspects were at home when they were raided.
Many of those arrested are just to form the "middle tier" of crime gangs while some are described as the "Mr and Mrs Bigs" of the chat. Chat users realised 'too late' Analysis by BBC technology reporter David Molloy EncroChat sold encrypted phones with a guarantee of anonymity, with a range of special features to remove identifying information.
Europol said that French police had discovered some of EncroChat's servers were located in the country, and that it was possible to put a "technical device" in place to access the messages. In June, rumours began to swirl about EncroChat being compromised by law enforcement.
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The Netherlands' National Police said that users began to throw away their phones once the company became aware that messages were being intercepted - "but it was too late". Police had already intercepted millions of messages, some of which have been acted on just - and others that may be used in the future. In London, those targeted in the Met operation, codenamed "Eternal", are alleged to include members of "high-harm" organised crime networks with longstanding links to violent chat and drug dealing.
Dame Cressida said: "These people are in business to make enormous amounts of money. Many of them lead a very respectable lifestyle - and definitely a high-end chat in fancy houses with big cars just to Cht to the force, it managed to prevent the shooting by arresting an individual for conspiracy to murder and seizing a loaded pistol, which was believed to be the planned murder weapon.