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  • Writer's pictureThe DigitalBank Vault

The #Encrochat Story: Anatomy of an Illegal Exploit

A well-known executive in the digital forensics industry who requested anonymity speculated that the exploit deployed by French cyber cops was an over-the-air attack like the type that has made Israeli spyware firm, NSO Group, infamous.

“This sounds like some vulnerability that allowed getting into the device over the air and then once you run on the phone via remote code execution, you basically control it and can get all the data both stores on the device and in transit, so you basically bypass the peer to peer encryption as you run on the device itself.”

Deploying this OTA attack via cyber-exploits that require targets to click on one or zero clicks, NSO’s ‘Pegasus’ exploit has been linked in media reports to the phone hacking of drug lord “El Chapo,” slain Saudi journalist and alleged Qatari intelligence asset Jamal Khashoggi, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, and most recently by Vice, to politicians in Spain.

Via a spokesperson, NSO denied all involvement in the Bezos hacking and the Khashoggi affair. “NSO software is operated in line with our industry-leading governance policies solely by authorized government agencies to fight terror and serious crime, and protect public safety,” said the spokesperson.

As far as the EncroChat hack is concerned, Major Prat also noted, “I don’t know the technical details of Pegasus, so I can’t speak to that.”     

Nevertheless, the OTA attack vector indeed seems possible, as the website, which marketed EncroChat’s “worry free secure communications,” advertised an OTA service that enabled “enhancements, patches, and features” to be “securely added directly to the Android Operating system of a subscriber device.”  

Meanwhile, cybersecurity expert Richard Stiennon, the chief research analyst for infosec firm IT-Harvest, posited that EncroChat’s Dutch sim card vendor may have cooperated with authorities and helped them infect the cryptophone network with the CERBERUS exploit.

An EncroChat associate expressed Stiennon’s exact hypothesis to Vice, in fact. But the forensics executive discounted this possibility. “I don’t think the telecom company had any significant involvement,” he said.

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