SKY ECC Owner, Resellers, Alternatives, Replacement, Competitors
Updated: Jul 5
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SKY ECC Owner, Resellers, Alternatives, Replacement, Competitors
Sky Global is a communications network and service provider based in Vancouver, Canada. Its most notable products were secure messaging application Sky ECC and secure phones.
Encrypted phone network Sky Global has seemingly shut down after European police swooped on users and distributors, and its chief exec was indicted by American prosecutors. News of the company shutdown was broken by Vice News after raids in Belgium and the Netherlands on Sky ECC users and resellers.
Sky Global is a communications network and service provider based in Vancouver, Canada. Its most notable products were the secure messaging application Sky ECC and secure phones. A significant share of users of its systems were international crime organizations involved in drug trafficking, and the company management was suspected of collusion. In a series of raids against criminal organizations in several countries in early 2021, a part of Sky's infrastructure in Western Europe was dismantled, and the US Department of Justice issued an arrest warrant against the company's CEO Jean-François Eap. On March 19, 2021, the company apparently shut down the operations after BlackBerry, Inc. cut it off from its services. Its website has been seized by the FBI.
Sky ECC advertises itself as a secure, end-to-end encrypted service and the "most secure messaging platform you can buy." The vendor offers a subscription and either Android and iOS handsets that are paid for in Bitcoin (BTC) and shipped worldwide.
According to Europol, there are approximately 170,000 Sky ECC users, and roughly three million messages are sent via the platform on a daily basis. In total, over 20% of the Sky ECC user base is said to be located in Belgium and the Netherlands.
On March 10, Europol announced that together with various law enforcement agencies in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, it has been possible to "unlock the encryption" of Sky ECC.
The law enforcement agency said that since roughly mid-February, chat sessions established between approximately 70,000 users have been monitored, leading to a "large number of arrests" in a crackdown on March 9. House searches and seizures took place across Belgium and the Netherlands and the mobile phones of suspects were seized.
"The continuous monitoring of the illegal Sky ECC communication service tool by investigators in the three countries involved has provided invaluable insights into hundreds of millions of messages exchanged between criminals," Europol says. "This has resulted in the collection of crucial information on over a hundred planned large-scale criminal operations, preventing potential life-threatening situations and possible victims."
In July 2020, the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) seized the servers of EncroChat, an encrypted platform that the NCA says was used to coordinate criminal activity.
Over 700 arrests were made at the time. According to Europol, following the seizure, many EncroChat users then moved over to Sky ECC.
Sky ECC has pushed back against Europol's claims, referring to a Dutch police press release that is accompanied by a photo allegedly showing the app in use on a mobile device.
The vendor claims that the image -- which appears to relate to a device advertised on the skyecc.eu domain, rather than .com -- is the work of an "imposter" and a "disgruntled" former reseller.
Sky ECC says that the "crack or hack" of its encrypted communication software are "false allegations."
Furthermore, Sky ECC CEO Jean-François Eap said in a statement that the company has not been contacted by the authorities "in connection with any investigations currently being reported," and "the confusing references to Sky ECC instead of skyecc.eu are very damaging."
"We know that someone has been passing themselves off as an official reseller of Sky ECC for some time and we have been trying to shut it down through legal channels for almost two years," Eap commented.
Instead, the vendor claims a malicious phishing application is being distributed under the Sky ECC name, with the implication being that law enforcement has been able to monitor messages sent via the unauthorized app, rather than the official version. Sky ECC claims this app has been illegally created, modified, and side-loaded onto devices.
However, the company also noted, "temporary interruptions in connection with its servers" on March 8.
"All Sky ECC phones purchased directly from Sky ECC or its authorized distributors remain secure," the vendor added. "We continue to stand by our promise of secure devices, secure networks, and secure communications."
Judicial and law enforcement authorities in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands have in close cooperation enabled major interventions to block the further use of encrypted communications by large-scale organized crime groups (OCGs), with the support of Europol and Eurojust. The continuous monitoring of the criminal use of the Sky ECC communication service tool by investigators in the three countries involved has provided invaluable insights into hundreds of millions of messages exchanged between criminals. This has resulted in the collection of crucial information on over a hundred planned large-scale criminal operations, preventing potential life-threatening situations and possible victims.
During an action day on 9 March 2021, a large number of arrests were made, as well as numerous house searches and seizures in Belgium and the Netherlands. The operation is an essential part of the continuous effort of judiciary and law enforcement in the EU and third countries to disrupt the illegal use of encrypted communications, as was already displayed last year following the successful de-encryption of the EncroChat communication platform.
As of mid-February, authorities have been able to monitor the information flow of approximately 70 000 users of Sky ECC. Many users of EncroChat changed over to the popular Sky ECC platform after EncroChat was unveiled in 2020.
By successfully unlocking the encryption of Sky ECC, the information acquired will provide insights into criminal activities in the various EU Member States and beyond and will assist in expanding investigations and solving serious and cross-border organized crime for the coming months, possibly years.
Law enforcement in all three countries has been on a continuous standby during the last month to be able to provide rapid reactions to possible dangerous criminal activities when required. The newly acquired information will now be analyzed further
Investigations into the tool started in Belgium after mobile phones seized during searches showed the use of Sky ECC by suspects. Worldwide, approximately 170 000 individuals use the tool, which has its own infrastructure and applications and is operated from the United States and Canada, using computer servers based in Europe. On a global scale, around three million messages are being exchanged each day via Sky ECC. Over 20 percent of the users are based in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Europol has and will continue to provide the authorities of Belgium, Netherlands, and other affected countries with tactical, technical, and financial support and will be dealing with this important flow of information on criminal activities in order to prevent threats to life and major crimes. Police obtained a wealth of information about the operations of the Belgian criminal underworld after the recent cracking of encrypted messaging service Sky ECC, but now they face tough choices about what to do with it all.
“With a team of 40 police officers to read and contextualise all those messages, it would take 685 years to go through everything,” federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw told De Tijd. “Each message takes about five to six minutes. To read everything in one day, you need a team of 11 million Belgians.”
Police say they have already opened hundreds of cases relating to money laundering, corruption, arms trafficking, and violent crime after gaining access to messages sent over the encrypted service, and they expect to open even more over the coming weeks and months.
But choosing which leads to pursue will be a challenge given the sheer amount of data obtained in the cracking.