Police seize network behind encrypted BlackBerry PGP devices

Dutch police have seized and copied the servers of an encrypted communications network behind modified phones they’ve found while investigating drug cases, criminal motorcycle gangs, and gangland killings, prosecutors said on Friday.

On Tuesday, 19 April, Dutch police also arrested the network’s owner, 36-year-old Danny Manupassa, on suspicion of money laundering and illegal weapons possession.

Prosecutors said in a statement that they believe the network, Ennetcom, is the “largest encrypted network used by organized crime in the Netherlands.”

All Ennetcom’s users, about 19,000 of them, were sent a message on Tuesday informing them that police had copied the servers. Most of the servers are in Canada, while most of Ennetcom’s users are in the Netherlands.

Ennetcom’s service, sold over a number of years, was based around customized PGP BlackBerries that were cloaked from the phone or internet networks.

From the Dutch police’s statement:

The company sold modified telephones for about 1,500 euros each and used its own servers for the encrypted data traffic. The phones had been modified so that they could not be used to make calls or use the internet.

PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy, a program for encrypting and authenticating data that’s often used to encrypt email.

According to the Dutch Police’s news release, the message sent to network users on Tuesday explained that the investigation focuses on individuals suspected of serious crime.

Earlier this year, we reported that Dutch and Canadian police have had success in “obtaining encrypted data from BlackBerry PGP devices”, so it will be interesting to see how far investigators get in this case, where they have both the phones and the servers through which they communicated.

Using encrypted communications is legal in the Netherlands. But spokesman Wim de Bruin, of the national prosecutor’s office, told Reuters that police think that many of the network’s users have engaged in serious crimes.

Ennetcom posted a statement on its website saying that it had been forced to “suspend all operations and services for the time being.”

More from Ennetcom’s statement:

There has been an international collaboration of various government agencies and Interpol in attempt to put our network down. Previously there have been attempts to put us down, amongst them the Dutch intelligence service, but they never succeeded (see Wikileaks).

Ennetcom regrets this course of events and insinuations towards Ennetcom. It should be clear that Ennetcom stands for freedom of privacy!

Because of security and privacy reasons Ennetcom chooses to keep all systems offline.

Image of Dutch Police courtesy of JPstock / Shutterstock.com