Secure Comms: Cracking the Encrypted Messages of Balkan Crime Gangs

Sky ECC described itself as "a global leader in secure messaging technology", helping to keep a host of industries safe from identity theft and hacking. Law enforcement authorities in the United States and Europe, however, say it was created with the sole purpose of facilitating drug trafficking and had become the messaging app of choice for transnational crime organisations.

Using equipment that President Aleksandar Vucic said Serbia had "borrowed from friends", police managed to access the app. What they found was gruesome, and damning - photos of two dead men, one of them decapitated.

Led by Veljko Belivuk, the gang - part of a group of violent football fans - is suspected of drug trafficking, murder and illegal weapons possession.

Belivuk and his associates, who remain in custody but have not yet been charged, allegedly used the app to organise criminal activities, and to brag about their exploits. In this, they were not alone.

On March 9, three days after Vucic displayed the photos, police in Belgium and the Netherlands made what Europol described the next day as a large number of arrests after secretly infiltrating the communications of some 70,000 Sky ECC devices and, from mid-February, reading them 'live'.

On March 12, US authorities indicted Jean-Francois Eap, chief executive officer of Sky Global, the company behind Sky ECC, and Thomas Herdman, a former high-level distributor of Sky Global devices, accusing them of conspiracy to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, RICO. Eap issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.

Critics of the government under Vucic say Belivuk had long acted with impunity, protected by reported ties to a number of senior governing officials.


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