SALES, RENTALS & LAYAWAYS

PROTECTING EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER BEEN OF VALUE TO YOU

Open 24/7/365

We Have A Life-Time Warranty /
Guarantee On All Products. (Includes Parts And Labor)

Massive Encrypted Cellphone Hack Gave Police A Window On Cocaine, Cash And Killers

Criminals thought encrypted Sky ECC cellphones were impregnable, but cops tapped a billion messages, yielding arrests and drug seizures. Massive Encrypted Cellphone Hack Gave Police A Window On Cocaine, Cash And Killers

The gangsters plotting to assassinate a judge thought they were leaving nothing to chance. But cops hundreds of miles away were on to them thanks to a stakeout with a modern twist.

Using supposedly impregnable encrypted phones, the Serbian hit men discussed earlier this year how wind direction and distance could affect the sniper’s bullet and planned their getaway.

Unbeknown to them, their messages were also flashing up on the computer screens of a secret police team in Belgium that had hacked into the messenger service, called Sky ECC. The Belgians warned police in Serbia, who whisked the judge to safety.

The infiltration was a signature success in efforts by authorities across the world to counter encrypted communications—a powerful new tool for criminal gangs to hide their identities and hatch plans in secret.

Massive Encrypted Cellphone Hack Gave Police A Window On Cocaine, Cash And Killers

Special handsets with a secure chat app and most other functions disabled have helped criminals flood Europe with cocaine, turning it into a rival of the U.S. for the world’s biggest market, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

But when authorities got inside the networks, they gained an unobstructed view of the gangs at work—and the chance to thwart them. For three weeks in February and March, Belgian officials say they eavesdropped as criminals used Sky to coordinate massive drug shipments, plan hits and exchange photos of cash, cocaine and corpses.

“It’s their Achilles’ heel,” said Kevin Daniels, the DEA’s deputy chief for Europe. “Oftentimes we’re two or three steps behind. They are looking for the latest technological advantage over us. But we’re finding a way to catch up.”

 

Law-enforcement officials say infiltrating Sky was the largest of several recent strikes against encrypted platforms. Authorities gathered roughly one billion messages from tens of thousands of Sky-enabled devices world-wide, which could feed investigations for years. Belgium has detained more than 500 suspects and seized 88 metric tons of cocaine, already exceeding last year’s record haul.

“Sky was monstrous,” said Scott A. Albrecht, who served as the DEA’s attaché in Belgium until July. “It was so global and such a volume of messages.”

This account of the international operation against Sky is based on interviews with a half-dozen officials from Belgium and the DEA, as well as public accounts from U.S., Belgian and other European officials.

The company that owned Sky, Vancouver-based Sky Global Inc., has denied any wrongdoing and said the platform had the legitimate aim of protecting privacy, not facilitating criminals. Sky Global says it relied in many cases on third-party resellers to distribute its devices and sought to prevent them from supplying criminals.

It was 2018 when Belgian police began picking up cellphone handsets that they couldn’t read. But when authorities mapped where similar phones were connecting to transmission towers, they found locations that were familiar from their efforts to counter the torrent of cocaine entering Europe via ports like Antwerp.

Sky, through its website and a network of resellers, offered Apple, Google and BlackBerry handsets loaded with sophisticated encryption software and with their GPS, cameras and microphones disabled. Messages were automatically deleted after 48 hours if the contact wasn’t reachable, and devices could be wiped remotely. Sky billed the platform as impenetrable and offered a prize of up to $5 million to anyone who could hack it.

Sky had tens of thousands of active users from the U.S. to Colombia to the Middle East. According to Belgian prosecutors, around one-quarter were in Belgium and the Netherlands, two of the main gateways to Europe for cocaine.

Sky said its target market was people and entities concerned with data privacy and confidentiality, such as doctors, government contractors and celebrities. But the locator map appeared to confirm that the phones, with contracts costing as much as $2,500 for six months, were being used almost exclusively by criminals.

Authorities needed to establish whether it was a legitimate target for infiltration, so they turned to traditional sleuthing methods. When a phone connected to a tower, revealing its location, they would use security cameras and dispatch surveillance teams to identify the users. Many of them turned out to be people suspected of involvement in drug-related crimes.

Authorities tracked a Sky server to northern France and worked with officials there to gain access. At first, they could only see the metadata, including the nicknames of users and the names of group chats, but not the messages. Then, an international team of hackers from as far afield as Australia found a way to decrypt roughly half of the three million daily messages.

“That was the Holy Grail,” said Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne.

Authorities launched a live operation in mid-February, reading messages in near-real-time and seeking to thwart criminals or catch them red-handed. Dozens of Belgian police across two sites in Brussels and Antwerp, along with teams in France and the Netherlands, tracked the conversations of top targets and received messages from others filtered for keywords by artificial intelligence.

The messages and photos pinging across the world astounded even experienced investigators. Users, confident in the platform’s impregnability, shared pictures of corpses, severed heads and other body parts, as well as bricks of cocaine and stacks of cash.

One user sent a photograph to demonstrate he had carried out an order to torture a victim. When one enforcer in a Western European country couldn’t find the man he was supposed to pummel, he received new instructions: “Here are pictures of the wife. You can break her legs.”

The messages revealed new connections and methods, from Belgian links with Italian organized crime to laboratories used by Colombians to extract cocaine hidden in fruit juice or melted into the plastic of toy dolls.

“Normally in an investigation, you have to dig a lot to find a small piece of gold,” said Belgian Federal Prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw. “Here, we had an open gold mine.”

The teams had to decide whether to act on the information, given the risk of exposing the operation, but always did so in case of threats to life. In one case, a message indicated that a gang in Canada was about to begin torturing a captive. The Belgians called authorities there to intervene.

Police also used information about shipments to seize tons of cocaine, although the big targets would sometimes shrug off the losses as they were making so much money. A kilo of cocaine costs €4,000 in Colombia, the equivalent of around $4,500, but rises to €50,000 in Belgium, where it is cut, increasing profits.

“They said, ‘Forget about it,’” said Mr. Van Leeuw.

After police seized a large consignment at the port in Antwerp, one group exchanged messages blaming a partner for snitching and proposing to kill him. Authorities decided to end the operation instead of risking an outbreak of violence.

On March 9, 1,600 Belgian police officers carried out more than 200 searches across the country, detaining 48 suspects.

Three days later, the U.S. Department of Justice said that a federal grand jury in San Diego had indicted the chief executive of Sky Global and an associate on racketeering and drug-trafficking charges, saying the encrypted phones had facilitated the distribution of drugs. A court issued warrants for their arrest, and the U.S. government seized the company’s websites, essentially forcing the shutdown of the encrypted service.

Lawyers for Sky Global filed a legal complaint this month in a federal court in San Diego, alleging that the U.S. government had improperly shut down Sky ECC and painted the executives as criminals for providing encrypted technology. The motion asked the government to return the company’s web domains, saying that it had taken measures to prevent its use for illegal activity, such as cutting off unscrupulous resellers.

Since the busts in March, police in Belgium have identified nearly 2,500 suspects and detained hundreds more, from suspected gangsters to police commanders and employees from port terminals, shipping firms and security companies. Several hundred police officers are pursuing further investigations. The first trial using the intercepted messages is set to start in January.

Meanwhile, officials say criminals are adapting by communicating across several platforms, for example by sending the numbers of containers containing shipments of cocaine in two parts via different services. Others are using popular messengers like WhatsApp, seeking to hide among the deluge of communications over such platforms.

New platforms are also popping up.

“It’s like whack-a-mole,” said the DEA’s Mr. Albrecht. “You hit one on the head, and then there comes two more.”

Related Articles:

GoDaddy Breached – Plaintext Passwords – 1.2M Affected!!

Amazon’s Twitch Hack Shows Top Gamers Rake In Six-Figure Payouts

The Mercenary Threat of U.S. Hackers-for-Hire

A Hospital Hit By Hackers, A Baby In Distress: The Case Of The First Alleged Ransomware Death

Google’s Chrome Browser Is Under Active Attack, Patch Now!!!!

How Hackers Use Our Brains Against Us And How We Can Fight Back

AT&T 5G Upgrade Risks Silencing Home Alarms Reliant On Old Tech

Coinbase Users Angry With Customer Support After Funds Disappear From Accounts

Apple Cyber Flaw Allows Silent iPhone Hack Through iMessage

Biden Urges CEOs To Improve U.S. Cybersecurity After Attacks

How Hackers Hammered Australia After China Ties Turned Sour

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Push Brings Cyber Concerns

Hacker Claims To Steal Data Of 100 Million T-Mobile Customers

Accenture Confirms Hack After LockBit Ransomware Data Leak Threats

CIA Weighs Creating Special China Unit In Bid To Out-Spy Beijing

Israel’s Mossad Intelligence Agency Is Seeking To Hire A Crypto Expert

US Taps Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Others To Help Fight Ransomware, Cyber Threats

US Drops Visa Fraud Cases Against Five Chinese Researchers

Want To Invest In Cybersecurity? Here Are Some ETFs To Consider

How To Protect Your Online Privacy While Working From Home

What Hackers Can Learn About You From Your Social-Media Profile

Biden Administration Blames Hackers Tied To China For Microsoft CyberAttack Spree

US Fights Ransomware With Crypto Tracing, $10 Million Bounties

Faces Are The Next Target For Fraudsters

Russia ‘Cozy Bear’ Breached GOP As Ransomware Attack Hit

Advertising Company Will Use Its Billboards To Track Passing Cellphones

REvil Ransomware Hits 200 Companies In MSP Supply-Chain Attack

What It Will Take To Protect Cities Against Cyber Threats

Home Security Company ADT Betting On Google Partnership To Build Revenue

Carnegie Cyber Kids Academy. World’s Most Prestigious Cyber Defense Training Facility

How To Opt Out Of Amazon’s Bandwidth-Sharing Sidewalk Network

Carnival Discloses Breach of Personal Data On Guests And Crew

UK Cyber Chief Cameron Says Ransomware Key Online Threat

The FBI Secretly Ran The Anom Messaging Platform, Yielding Hundreds Of Arrests In Global Sting

Federal Reserve Hacked More Than 50 Times In 4 Years

All of JBS’s US Beef Plants Were Forced Shut By Cyberattack

It Wasn’t Until Anonymous Payment Systems That Ransomware Became A Problem

How To Use Ian Coleman’s BIP39 Tool For Finding Bitcoin Addresses And Private Keys From A Seed Phrase

A New Ransomware Enters The Fray: Epsilon Red

This Massive Phishing Campaign Delivers Password-Stealing Malware Disguised As Ransomware

Biden Proposes Billions For Cybersecurity After Wave of Attacks

Mobile Crypto ‘Mining’ App Possibly Connected To Personal Data Leak

Ireland Confirms Second Cyber Attack On Health System

US Unveils Plan To Protect Power Grid From Foreign Hackers

Hackers Breach Thousands of Security Cameras, Exposing Tesla, Jails, Hospitals

A Hacker Was Selling A Cybersecurity Exploit As An NFT. Then OpenSea Stepped In

Clubhouse And Its Privacy & Security Risk

Using Google’s ‘Incognito’ Mode Fails To Prevent Tracking

Kia Motors America Victim of Ransomware Attack Demanding $20M In Bitcoin, Report Claims

The Long Hack: How China Exploited A U.S. Tech Supplier

Clubhouse Users’ Raw Audio May Be Exposed To Chinese Partner

Hacker Changed Chemical Level In Florida City’s Water System

UK Merger Watchdog Suffers 150 Data Breaches In Two Years

KeepChange Foils Bitcoin Theft But Loses User Data In Sunday Breach

Hacker Refuses To Hand Police Password For Seized Wallet With $6.5M In Bitcoin

SonicWall Says It Was Victim of ‘Sophisticated’ Hack

Tor Project’s Crypto Donations Increased 23% In 2020

Read This Now If Your Digital Wallet Which Holds Your Crypto-currencies Can Be Accessed Through Cellular, Wifi, Or Bluetooth

Armed Robbers Steal $450K From Hong Kong Crypto Trader

Is Your iPhone Passcode Off Limits To The Law? Supreme Court Ruling Sought

Researchers Warn 3 Apps Have Been Stealing Crypto Undetected For A Year

Ways To Prevent Phishing Scams In 2020

The Pandemic Turbocharged Online Privacy Concerns

US Treasury Breached By Foreign-Backed Hackers

FireEye Hack Portends A Scary Era Of Cyber-Insecurity

How FinCEN Became A Honeypot For Sensitive Personal Data

Apple And Google To Stop X-Mode From Collecting Location Data From Users’ Phones

Surge In Physical Threats During Pandemic Complicates Employee Security Efforts

Imagine A Nutrition Label—for Cybersecurity

Cybercriminals Attack GoDaddy-based Cryptocurrency Platforms

Biden Team Lacks Full U.S. Cybersecurity Support In Transition Fracas

Nasdaq To Buy Anti-Financial Crime Firm Verafin For $2.75 Billion

Mysterious Software Bugs Were Used To Hack iPhones and Android Phones and No One Will Talk About It

Dark Web Hackers Say They Hold Keys To 10,000 Robinhood Accounts #GotBitcoin

Hackers Steal $2.3 Million From Trump Wisconsin Campaign Account

Crypto Scammers Deface Trump Campaign Website One Week From Elections

Telecoms Protocol From 1975 Exploited To Target 20 Crypto Executives

With Traders Far From Offices, Banks Bring Surveillance To Homes

Financial Systems Set Up To Monitor Unemployment Insurance Fraud Are Being Overloaded (#GotBlockchain?)

A Millionaire Hacker’s Lessons For Corporate America

Container Shipping Line CMA CGM Says Data Possibly Stolen In Cyberattack

Major Hospital System Hit With Cyberattack, Potentially Largest In U.S. History

Hacker Releases Information On Las Vegas-Area Students After Officials Don’t Pay Ransom

Russian Troll Farms Posing As African-American Support For Donald Trump

US Moves To Seize Cryptocurrency Accounts Linked To North Korean Heists

These Illicit SIM Cards Are Making Hacks Like Twitter’s Easier

Uber Exec Allegedly Concealed 2016 Hack With $100K BTC ‘Bug Bounty’ Pay-Off

Senate Panel’s Russia Probe Found Counterintelligence Risks In Trump’s 2016 Campaign

Bockchain Based Surveillance Camera Technology Detects Crime In Real-Time

Trump Bans TicToc For Violating Your Privacy Rights While Giving US-Based Firm Go Ahead (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook Offers Money To Reel In TikTok Creators

How A Facebook Employee Helped Trump Win—But Switched Sides For 2020

Facebook Rebuffs Barr, Moves Ahead on Messaging Encryption

Facebook Ad Rates Fall As Coronavirus Undermines Ad Spending

Facebook Labels Trump Posts On Grounds That He’s Inciting Violence

Crypto Prediction Markets Face Competition From Facebook ‘Forecasts’ (#GotBitcoin?)

Coronavirus Is The Pin That Burst Facebook And Google Online Ads Business Bubble

OpenLibra Plans To Launch Permissionless Fork Of Facebook’s Stablecoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook Warns Investors That Libra Stablecoin May Never Launch (#GotBitcoin?)

FTC Approves Roughly $5 Billion Facebook Settlement (#GotBitcoin?)

How Facebook Coin’s Big Corporate Backers Will Profit From Crypto

Facebook’s Libra Is Bad For African Americans (#GotBitcoin?)

A Monumental Fight Over Facebook’s Cryptocurrency Is Coming (#GotBitcoin?)

Alert! 540 Million Facebook Users’ Data Exposed On Amazon Servers (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook Bug Potentially Exposed Unshared Photos of Up 6.8 Million Users (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook Says Millions of Users’ Passwords Were Improperly Stored in Internal Systems (#GotBitcoin?)

Advertisers Allege Facebook Failed to Disclose Key Metric Error For More Than A Year (#GotBitcoin?)

Ad Agency CEO Calls On Marketers To Take Collective Stand Against Facebook (#GotBitcoin?)

Thieves Can Now Nab Your Data In A Few Minutes For A Few Bucks (#GotBitcoin?)

New Crypto Mining Malware Beapy Uses Leaked NSA Hacking Tools: Symantec Research (#GotBitcoin?)

Equifax, FICO Team Up To Sell Your Financial Data To Banks (#GotBitcoin?)

Cyber-Security Alert!: FEMA Leaked Data Of 2.3 Million Disaster Survivors (#GotBitcoin?)

DMV Hacked! Your Personal Records Are Now Being Transmitted To Croatia (#GotBitcoin?)

Lithuanian Man Pleads Guilty In $100 Million Fraud Against Google, Facebook (#GotBitcoin?)

Hack Alert! Buca Di Beppo, Owned By Earl Enterprises Suffers Data Breach Of 2M Cards (#GotBitcoin?)

SEC Hack Proves Bitcoin Has Better Data Security (#GotBitcoin?)

Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) Rises As Banking Industry’s Overseer (#GotBitcoin?)

FICO Plans Big Shift In Credit-Score Calculations, Potentially Boosting Millions of Borrowers (#GotBitcoin?)

Our Facebook Page

Your Questions And Comments Are Greatly Appreciated.

Monty H. & Carolyn A.

Go back

Leave a Reply