Eurocops Shuts Down Exclu Messaging App, Dozens Arrested

By   Adeola Adegunwa
Writer , Informationsecuritybuzz | Feb 07, 2023 04:26 am PST

After a massive wave of raids across Europe last week, Law enforcement has shut down an encrypted messaging service that has been on their radar since a raid on an old NATO bunker in 2019. 48 individuals that were users who ran and managed the Exclu crypto communications service were detained by authorities in those four nations last Friday after a search of 79 homes in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Poland.

According to Dutch authorities, organized crime, and drug gangs frequently used Exclu, which is still active and accepts payments of €500 ($537/£446) or €900 ($966/£804) for three- and six-month licenses, respectively. Exclu allowed users to communicate with each other by exchanging messages, images, notes, and different types of content with about 3,000 members—750 of whom spoke Dutch, according to Dutch police—before the service was shut down. 

Exclu advertises on its website that it is end-to-end encrypted, provides the ability to wipe devices remotely, and has additional security features. The Dutch police and Public Prosecution Service stated that “the Exclu service has been dissolved.” No one is currently able to use Exclu’s services.

Along with stopping Exclu from being used as a shelter for criminals, Dutch law enforcement reported that it and its Belgian counterparts had recovered two drug labs, several kilograms of drugs, cash totaling over €4 million, “a number of luxury items,” and “a number of guns.”

Legally privileged Exclu users in the Netherlands, such as lawyers, civil-law notaries, doctors, and clergy, can request that their data be erased by contacting the police, pending a check to ensure that it doesn’t include any illegal information.

Eurocops Spent Five Months Decrypting Exclu Services

Although the majority of the arrests of Exclu’s top executives appear to have taken place outside of Germany, the rest of Europe may credit German authorities for providing the information that resulted in the raids and arrests. The Dutch police praised their German counterparts explicitly for letting them “conduct research in Germany with a view to obtaining evidence for its inquiry.”

The capture of an ancient NATO bunker called German officials claims that the “Cyberbunker” or CB3ROB, known for hosting some less reputable websites online, including The Pirate Bay and the Exclu back end, is where their investigation into Exclu began in 2020. 

The Dutch police claimed that they spent five months decrypting Exclu’s services before last week’s simultaneous searches, and the German authorities claimed that their probe of the Cyberbunker provided them with the information they needed.

The information acquired from Exclu also helped law enforcement locate and identify the service’s creators, operators, and owners, many of whom were detained during the raids.

End-to-end encryption services like Exclu have become a political headache for lawmakers and law enforcement organizations throughout the world, who are worried that such software serves to break the law and that a backdoor must be forced into such services.

Regulators Are Looking More Closely At Encrypted Texting

The multi-nation drug busts coincide with a resurgence in worries among encryption proponents that European officials, frequently regarded as defenders of digital privacy, may be getting ready to crack down on certain communications apps.

The European Commission put up a controversial new law last summer that would require messaging apps to check users’ private communications for evidence of child sexual abuse or what is known as “grooming” activity. If the rule were to be adopted, it might apply to smaller, less well-known encrypted messaging services and larger, more well-known services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Critics of the rule, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claim that because it would “demand the infrastructure for extensive monitoring of user conversations,” encrypted texting is directly threatened. Even though the rule only applies to CSAM-related content, encryption supporters warn that it, along with other encryption-weakening technologies, might also be applied to other areas of interest.

Is the only solution to this issue to crack encryption? In a recent interview with Wired, the CEO of Proton, a business that specializes in encrypted communications, said, “I can tell you, it’s not. “We must constantly strike the proper balance. And in my opinion, forcing us to weaken, undermine, or break encryption is not the correct balance.

Conclusion

A mysterious encrypted messaging app that organized crime groups allegedly used to transport narcotics, cash, and weapons throughout Europe was shut down by police on Monday. Then they apprehended the alleged coders. After conducting dozens of raids in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, police detained 42 Exclu encrypted messaging service users, operators, and administrators. The multi-nation inquiry, which reportedly lasted several years and started in 2020, apparently resulted in the seizure of firearms, cash, and cocaine valued at millions of dollars. According to reports, Dutch authorities were able to gain access to Exclu’s server and read five months’ worth of messages that members had exchanged before the searches.

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Ilia Kolochenko
Ilia Kolochenko , Founder and CEO
InfoSec Expert
February 8, 2023 1:15 pm

“This is another great validation that cross-border collaboration between national law enforcement agencies is capable of efficiently suppressing cybercrime. Unfortunately, the current funding of European law enforcement units, which are dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of cybercrime, is largely insufficient to combat the rapidly growing number of sophisticated cyber threat actors around the globe.

“For example, when a Dark Web marketplace disappears after a successful police raid, two more successors rapidly appear negating all the efforts. Worst, most cyber gangs are physically based in non-extraditable or hostile foreign jurisdictions, making any legal actions against perpetrators futile. Global collaboration between law enforcement agencies and adequate increase of their funding is urgently required, otherwise, governments may lose control over the Internet pretty soon.”

Last edited 1 month ago by Ilia Kolochenko

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