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The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) and authorities in seven other countries have succeeded in breaking into hundreds of criminals’ encrypted phones. Access to these highly secured smartphones has provided evidence in dozens of Dutch criminal cases, NOS reports.
These successes formed part of a European project in which investigative services and companies from eight countries worked together to find ways into encrypted phones of various models. The project started in 2020 and ends this month.
“Cryptophones” are ordinary smartphones with extra security and encryption software to communicate securely. Getting access to the data on such phones is often challenging, Erwin van Eijk of the NFI told NOS. “These days, phones have multiple layers of encryption, and the phones are modified in the software,’ he said, describing getting to the data as breaking into “a bank vault within a bank vault.” And it’s an ever-changing process because, as investigators’ techniques improve, so does encryption.
In recent years, the police have gained access to and shut down seven providers of encrypted communication, including EncroChat, Sky ECC, and Exclu. The millions of messages confiscated at once resulted in a trove of evidence in hundreds of criminal cases.
The phones the NFI helped crack involve individual cryptophones seized during police arrests or raids. According to the Public Prosecution Service (OM), being able to break into an individual cryptophone is often crucial in criminal cases. “It often concerns evidence that we could not collect in any other way,” prosecutor Martijn Egberts told NOS. “Experience shows that every cracked phone provides direct insight into criminal offenses, from drug transport to violence.”