European police detained in Belgrade three people whom they call the "biggest" drug lords of the Balkans. This became possible thanks to the hacking of the encrypted Sky ECC messenger, which was used by criminals to hide their activities from the law.
On May 11, law enforcement agencies in Serbia and the Netherlands conducted coordinated raids on suspected cartel leaders and its drug distribution infrastructure, Europol reported. During the operation, 13 suspects were arrested in Serbia, including three ringleaders, 35 houses were searched and almost 3 million euros, 15 expensive cars, a lot of jewelry, watches and weapons were seized.
The police also arrested 10 more cartel members in Belgium, Serbia, Peru and the Netherlands, for a total of 23 people. All these arrests were made possible thanks to the previous Sky ECC hack.
Sky ECC is a paid end-to-end encrypted messaging application developed by Sky Global. The same company was engaged in the manufacture and sale of Google, Apple, Nokia and BlackBerry smartphones without GPS modules, cameras and microphones. Thus, through Sky ECC and special smartphones, criminals could communicate by text with "colleagues" without fear of being tapped by the police or other third parties.
In March 2021, Sky Global went out of business following raids in Belgium and the Netherlands on Sky ECC users and sellers. That same month, U.S. prosecutors indicted the CEO of Sky Global for selling encrypted devices to drug dealers to help them evade justice.
Shortly after the arrests, Belgian police claimed they had "cracked" Sky's ECC encryption, allowing it to "monitor the traffic flow" of about 70,000 app users. All this information, concentrated in the hands of the feds, still continues to contribute to investigations, arrests and lawsuits.
In connection with the latest arrests, the European police also recalled two other encrypted communication services - EncroChat and ANOM, which were also hacked earlier and soon closed. Like Sky ECC, these paid communications apps have been popular with criminals to hide their illegal activities. Data from all three services has been used by law enforcement as evidence for thousands of arrests.
"The recent decline in three encrypted communication tools used by criminals - EncroChat, Anom and Sky ECC - has shown the prevalence of Balkan criminals in the global cocaine trade and related organized crime," Europol said.
Although the use of the data thus obtained as evidence to arrest people has led to several legal actions by the defendants, the courts always take the side of the police in such situations.