Cops are struggling to crack encrypted phones used for organised crime due to advances in technology

LAW enforcement agencies are being thwarted in the war on terror and organised crime by a surge in highly-encrypted mobile phones.

Codebreakers say they are involved in a constant battle with manufacturers updating their technology to stay one step ahead of hackers.

Experts say police and counter-terrorism units are unable to extract vital information from the handsets, which have now become almost impossible to crack.

Analysts working for police, the National Crime Agency (NCA), the Borders Agency and HM Revenue and Customs have also warned specialist mobile devices offering voice encryption are impossible to breach.

Telecoms firms have introduced expensive handsets offering military-grade encryptions to the market.

The Sunday Mail can reveal that one private investigator operating in the west of Scotland sold a consignment of these devices to an organised crime group earlier this year.

We also found a seller in Birmingham flogging similar devices on classified ads
website Gumtree.

The unnamed man offered our reporter anti-tapping phones with six months’ encryption for £2200 and handsets with PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption for £1100.

He said: “I’ve got a load of phones. I’ve got a couple of prices. If you’re looking to make calls out, there’s a special unit for sale. And if you don’t want to make calls, like a lot of people these days, there’s one with the messaging encryption service.

“With the PGP, you’re downloading software with a special Sim card. The person at the other end needs the same device. These phones are cheaper.

“Most folk don’t like talking on the phone in their house or in their car now – they prefer encrypted messaging.

“With the encrypted call phones, you can make unlimited worldwide calls for six months.

“The server is based in Russia. When you make a call, it rings the server, which then disconnects you and rings you back before connecting to the other number. You’re not making a direct call. It’s bullet-proof.

“These phones are £2200 and will last you six months but the phone is yours for life. You need to renew the Sim card for £1200 every six months. I hear a lot of Nigerian conmen are using these phones. If you take two, I’ll give you them for £4000.”

Law enforcement agencies have called for software firms Apple, who operate iOS, and Google, who run Android, to provide backdoor access to help authorities tackle dangerous offenders.

Tech experts are employed to hack into software designed by firms in Silicon Valley.

Richard Walker, mobile device lab manager at CCL Forensics Ltd, who break phone algorithms for government agencies including the NCA, said: “The issue of encryption is posing problems for law enforcement.

“The nature of encryption limits what we can extract from devices. About 60 to 70 per cent of our work is now done on smartphones.

“Certainly, with the Apple handsets, we can’t extract emails and can no longer perform full extractions of the phones, therefore limiting what deleted data we can get back.

“Android are increasing encryption with each new update, which in turn reduces what we can extract.

“Technology constantly moves forward and that enables encryption. But it also provides the chance for forensic tools to be developed where the encryptions may be broken.

“We’ve got a research department working round the clock cracking the Blackberry messenger encryption.

“Unfortunately, we’re in a constant game of cat and mouse with the mobile phone developers. We find vulnerability in their systems, they fix it, then we have to find a new way round it.

“But criminal gangs using these phones for nefarious activities will find that they only provide a significant benefit for a short time.

“At some point, they will be cracked, data will be extracted and criminals will be brought to justice.”

It is feared the Islamic State terror cells responsible for the attacks on Paris and the bombing of a Russian plane used encrypted communications.

Messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram – which offer end-to-end security – have also come under scrutiny because of the threat of extremism.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Scotland Act allows police and other authorities the power to request access to the email and phone records of anybody in the country.

Dr Phillips O’Brien, a defence expert at Glasgow University, said: “This is part of an ongoing struggle between the state and those who want to harm it, each taking advantage of technological advances.

“Private companies are often leaders in certain technologies, in this case encryption. This kind of struggle over technology will continue.”

Source: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/crime/cops-struggling-crack-encrypted-phones-6962815

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