The European Commission's Joint Research Centre, along with Europol, has unveiled a new decryption platform that will enable law enforcement authorities across Europe to decrypt legally-obtained data to respond to organised crime and terrorism in Europe.
Europol stated in a press release that the use of the new decryption platform will be conducted n full respect of fundamental rights and without limiting or weakening encryption. The platform will be used only to decrypt lawfully-obtained information and will be available to law enforcement authorities of all member states.
"We have made a significant step forward in combating the criminal abuse of encryption with the aim of keeping our society and citizens safe while fully respecting fundamental rights," said Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle.
"The new Europol Decryption Platform, funded by the European Commission, will allow us to further enhance our support for Member State investigations. This is the result of successful inter-organisational collaboration within the EU and shows the potential for further joint work and support for the EU innovation hub for internal security."
The decryption platform will be operated solely by Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and it is expected to enable authorities to effectively fight back against organised crime groups, which generate large profits (online fraud), seriously harm victims (online child sexual exploitation) or impact critical infrastructure and information systems in the EU, including through cyber-attacks.
🔎NEW DECRYPTION PLATFORM LAUNCHED🚨👮
Developed in cooperation with @EU_ScienceHub and @EU_Commission and operated by @EC3Europol. It will significantly increase our capability to decrypt info lawfully obtained in criminal investigations.
➡️Read more: https://t.co/xHOg5N6kP1
— Europol (@Europol) December 18, 2020
"This decryption platform will help police to investigate terrorism and serious and organised criminality. It will be important in the fight against online child sexual abuse. National police forces can now send lawfully obtained evidence to Europol for decryption," sais Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.
While not much information about the platform itself has been revealed to the public, it remains to be seen how effectively Europol will keep the decryption software secure and safe from malicious actors, especially nation-state actors, who would be keen on accessing such a software to remotely decrypt the devices of targeted people.
The launch of the platform takes place not long after law enforcement authorities in Europe succeeded in infiltrating EncroChat, a popular encrypted global communication service used exclusively by criminals in multiple countries.
Criminals paid around £1,500 for a six-month contract with EncroChat, in exchange for which they received custom phones which had pre-loaded apps for instant messaging, the ability to make VOIP calls, and a kill code which wiped them remotely.
EncroChat was first infiltrated in April this year by law enforcement agencies in France and the Netherlands who proceeded to share the data with other European agencies via Europol. Using the wealth of information obtained from EncroChat, NCA launched its own operation dubbed Operation Venetic to nab criminals who operated in the UK.
Aside from arresting 746 suspects, NCA also seized over £54 million in criminal cash, 77 firearms, including an AK47 assault rifle, sub machine guns, handguns, four grenades, and over 1,800 rounds of ammunition, more than two tonnes of Class A and B drugs, over 28 million Etizolam pills (street Valium) from an illicit laboratory, 55 high value cars, and 73 luxury watches.
Information obtained via EncroChat also helped NCA successfully mitigating over 200 criminal activities such as planned kidnappings and executions between rival gangs.