Cybercrime , Encryption & Key Management , Fraud Management & Cybercrime

European Police Shut Down Encrypted App Used by Criminals

Police Seize Drugs, Firearms and 4M Euros in Raids on Exclu Users and Operators
European Police Shut Down Encrypted App Used by Criminals
Image: Shutterstock

A multinational law enforcement operation in Europe shuttered an encrypted chat app allegedly favored by organized crime, arresting four dozen individuals including the app's owners and administrators.

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German authorities say they decrypted messages exchanged on the app, which they began investigating in June 2020. Police from the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Poland participated in the operation.

Authorities say about 3,000 users signed up to Exclu, paying an 800-euro license fee for six months of access. The app came to German authorities' attention following a 2019 raid on a former Cold War-era fortified military bunker in the German town of Traben-Trarbach, then used as a web hosting facility by an outfit that called itself Cyberbunker, or CB3ROB. Cyberbunker hosted dark websites and, German police say, the Exclu back-end.

Dutch police say raids made as part of the crackdown also found two drug labs, a cocaine-processing facility, several kilos of drugs, firearms and 4 million euros in cash. Dutch speakers amounted to 750 users of the app's user base, they also say.

The Exclu website as of publication is still online and touts its use of end-to-end encryption and ability to accept payment in bitcoin.

The raid comes amid renewed concerns about end-to-end encryption by governments, including the European Commission, which in May proposed legislation countering child sexual abuse material that critics say would effectively outlaw end-to-end encryption. "The loss or weakening of secure communication technologies like end-to-end encryption creates new vulnerabilities that put European internet users, including children, at risk," wrote the Internet Society in August.

European authorities have busted encrypted apps tied to criminal use before. In 2020, police hacked into a messaging service known as EncroChat and in 2021, they dismantled chat app SkyECC.

About the Author

Akshaya Asokan

Akshaya Asokan

Senior Correspondent, ISMG

Asokan is a U.K.-based senior correspondent for Information Security Media Group's global news desk. She previously worked with IDG and other publications, reporting on developments in technology, minority rights and education.

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