News 06 March 2020

Swiss authorities file criminal complaint against crypto firm involved in CIA spying

Swiss authorities have filed a criminal complaint against Crypto AG, a Zug-based cryptography firm that was allegedly used by US and German intelligence as a front to spy on the secret communications of governments around the world.

Crypto AG sold cryptography devices to more than 100 countries to enable secure communications. But the machines were sold with a ‘back door’ allowing the communications to be read.

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (‘SECO’) filed the complaint against unknown persons ‘since it is as yet unclear who at Crypto AG knew about the manipulations,’ according to the SonntagsZeitung newspaper. It reported that at its peak the company employed around 400 people, but only a few would have been aware of the covert spying.

It is alleged that for decades, Crypto AG sold secretly manipulated cryptography devices to dozens of countries for spying purposes. Until 2018, the company was owned by the CIA and Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (‘BND’), both of which had the ability to decrypt the devices.

SECO says it would not have approved the exports if it had been aware of the large-scale fraud.

SonntagsZeitung reported it is likely the complaint against Crypto AG was filed under Article 14 of the Good Control Act, under which anyone providing incorrect or incomplete information in a licence application can face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of CHF5 million ($5.18 million).