Sky ECC denies police have ‘cracked’ encrypted messaging platform

Europol, however, says arrests have been made based on monitoring conversation flows.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Sky ECC has denied that the encrypted messaging platform has been compromised by European law enforcement. 

Sky ECC advertises itself as a secure, end-to-end encrypted service and the "most secure messaging platform you can buy." The vendor offers a subscription and either Android and iOS handsets that are paid for in Bitcoin (BTC) and shipped worldwide. 

According to Europol, there are approximately 170,000 Sky ECC users and roughly three million messages are sent via the platform on a daily basis. In total, over 20% of the Sky ECC user base is said to be located in Belgium and the Netherlands. 

On March 10, Europol announced that together with various law enforcement agencies in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, it has been possible to "unlock the encryption" of Sky ECC. 

The law enforcement agency said that since roughly mid-February, chat sessions established between approximately 70,000 users have been monitored, leading to a "large number of arrests" in a crackdown on March 9. House searches and seizures took place across Belgium and the Netherlands and the mobile phones of suspects were seized.

"The continuous monitoring of the illegal Sky ECC communication service tool by investigators in the three countries involved has provided invaluable insights into hundreds of millions of messages exchanged between criminals," Europol says. "This has resulted in the collection of crucial information on over a hundred planned large-scale criminal operations, preventing potential life-threatening situations and possible victims."

In July 2020, the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) seized the servers of EncroChat, an encrypted platform that the NCA says was used to coordinate criminal activity. 

Over 700 arrests were made at the time. According to Europol, following the seizure, many EncroChat users then moved over to Sky ECC. 

Sky ECC has pushed back against Europol's claims, referring to a Dutch police press release that is accompanied by a photo allegedly showing the app in use on a mobile device. 

The vendor claims that the image -- which appears to relate to a device advertised on the skyecc.eu domain, rather than .com -- is the work of an "imposter" and a "disgruntled" former reseller. 

Sky ECC says that the "crack or hack" of its encrypted communication software are "false allegations." 

Furthermore, Sky ECC CEO Jean-François Eap said in a statement that the company has not been contacted by the authorities "in connection with any investigations currently being reported," and "the confusing references to Sky ECC instead of skyecc.eu are very damaging."

"We know that someone has been passing themselves off as an official reseller of Sky ECC for some time and we have been trying to shut it down through legal channels for almost two years," Eap commented.

Instead, the vendor claims a malicious phishing application is being distributed under the Sky ECC name, with the implication being that law enforcement has been able to monitor messages sent via the unauthorized app, rather than the official version. Sky ECC claims this app has been illegally created, modified, and side-loaded onto devices.  

However, the company also noted "temporary interruptions in connection with its servers" on March 8.

"All Sky ECC phones purchased directly from Sky ECC or its authorized distributors remain secure," the vendor added. "We continue to stand by our promise of secure devices, secure networks and secure communications."

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