Dutch police take out encrypted criminal communication system

The police took down a large encrypted communication network on Tuesday, the Public Prosecutor announced. The network was used by criminals in the Netherlands, and possibly abroad. A 36 year old man from Nijmegen was arrested on suspicion of money laundering. 

The suspect is the owner of a Nijmegen company, which provided criminals with customized smartphones and accompanying communication services, according to the prosecutor. The smartphones, sold for 1,500 euros each, can only be used for email and are protected with encryption software called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP).

According to ABC news, PGP is effective enough that the American government tried to block its export in the 90's. The Americans felt the software is so powerful that it should be classified as a weapon.

Investigations into assassinations and outlaw motorcycle gangs showed that criminals extensively use this encryption software to confidentially communicate with each other. This prompted the police to launch an investigation into the providers of these services.

The High Tech Crime team of the police traced down the servers used for these communication and took them off the air. This involved servers in the Netherlands and one in Toronto, Canada. The police also copied data from these servers, which should show details of who sent and received emails on the encrypted phones.

According to NRC, the Netherlands Forensic Institute found a way to break into seized PGP phones late last year. Files of large criminal cases show that the authorities manage to do so more and more often. For example, breaking through phone encryption in the case of corrupt customs officer Gerrit G., who helped criminals smuggle cocaine, delivered a heap of evidence.