Northern Ireland

Leading Co Tyrone republican's home searched in encrypted calls probe

The high-security Encrochat handsets.
The high-security Encrochat handsets.

A leading Co Tyrone republican's house is among a number of properties searched as part of an investigation into organised criminality linked to the breach of the Encrochat communications network.

The breach of one of the world's most secure communications networks has already resulted in four people appearing in court in Northern Ireland, with dozens of other cases expected in the coming weeks.

Encrochat market encrypted handsets and while the technology is legal, the high degree of security makes the handsets - which sell for up to £3,500 and can cost £1,500 for a sixth month contract - attractive to organised crime networks.

Encrochat sent an urgent message two weeks ago to all users to destroy their handsets after a cyber breach.

Many of these cannot be used to make voice calls and use a wifi signal rather than mobile networks, with users limited to text or picture messages.

Users of the network received a message saying: "Due to the level of sophistication of the attack and the malware code, we can no longer guarantee the security of your device. We took immediate action on our network by disabling connectivity to combat the attack.

"You are advised to power off and physically dispose of your device immediately".

Subsequently a number of people have appeared in court charged with offences alleged to be based on encrypted phone evidence.

To date four people have appeared at three separate court hearings, charged with a range of drugs and weapons offences.

A number of other searches have been carried out in connection with an investigation linked to a Europe-wide smuggling network, with the home of a high profile east Tyrone republican among those targeted in the last 10 days.

A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency told The Irish News: “We are aware of reports relating to law enforcement action taken against Encrochat, however we do not routinely confirm or deny the NCA's involvement in investigations.”