Drugs Labs Busted After Encrypted Chat App Takedown

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An encrypted communications app popular with organized crime groups (OGCs) was taken down late last week by European police following a multi-year investigation.

Exclu was used by an estimated 3000 users to hide their comms from law enforcers, according to Eurojust.

A lengthy investigation began in June 2020 in Germany, with Dutch cybercrime experts brought in soon after. They apparently used their tech know-how to track users of the app for five months and subsequently dismantle the service.

During an action day last week, 1200 police officers were deployed, two drug laboratories dismantled and €5.5m ($5.9m) in cash, 300,000 ecstasy tablets and 20 firearms seized, alongside 200 phones which will be analyzed for further evidence.

Police in the Netherlands and Belgium arrested 45 individuals, including users of the app and its suspected administrators and owners. A further 79 locations were searched in the Netherlands, Germany and Poland.

Exclu’s operators apparently charged users €800 ($858) for a six-month license to use the service, which ran from a server in Germany. According to Eurojust, users praised its security and reliability.

The app’s demise comes after similar platforms met the same fate. EncroChat was run from servers in France and at its height had an estimated 60,000 users worldwide, a sixth of whom were based in the UK.

It was busted in 2020 after a flurry of arrests, and police are still bringing cases to trial of OGC members they’ve been able to unmask thanks to intelligence gleaned from covert monitoring of users prior to the takedown.

A separate app, Sky ECC, was estimated to have had 70,000 global users when it was dismantled. Investigators were able to wiretap its servers, enabling them to access hundreds of millions of chats and disrupt over 100 planned criminal operations in EU member states and beyond.

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