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Mysterious cyberattack hits Belgium

By blocking the national Belnet network, hackers have compromised the IT security of several institutions. Their identification promises to be long and tedious, but several hypotheses have been put forward.

By blocking the national Belnet network, hackers have compromised the computer security of several institutions. Their identification promises to be long and tedious, but several hypotheses have been put forward.

From our correspondent Max Helleff (Brussels) – Three days ago, Tuesday, May 4, the national research network Belnet was the victim of a large-scale cyberattack. Some 200 institutions connected to this Internet access network were affected. The Chamber, the Walloon Parliament or even universities suddenly faced a slowdown in their computer system.

The attack is called “distributed denial of service” (DDoS). The objective pursued by hackers is to render the targeted services inoperative. It was therefore not a data breach or theft, but a raid aimed at saturating the Belnet network.

The day after the attack, the operator announced that he had succeeded in repelling the assault. Things have since returned to normal. Two questions remain, however: who launched this attack and why did the IT protection of Belgian institutions not resist more? Several hypotheses are advanced.

May 4 was to be held in the Chamber of hearings relating to four motions for resolution on the repression in Xinjiang, an autonomous province of China. However, the session was canceled due to the cyberattack. On the agenda included a proposal calling for “recognizing the crime of genocide perpetrated by the government of the People’s Republic of China against the Uyghurs”.

For the Ecolo deputy Samuel Cogolati, who carries this resolution, it is legitimate to wonder about this coincidence of agenda ”. In the columns of Free Belgium, he explains that “it was the first time that a Uyghur survivor had to testify in front of a parliamentary assembly in a public way, in the open”. The cyber attackers could have sought to intimidate him.

However, this hypothesis has not been verified since and one can question its credibility insofar as, in any case, the parliamentary session will be rescheduled within a fortnight. If the resolution is passed, Belgium will also only join other Western states on the Uyghur issue.

A major threat

Echo notes for its part that the Energy, Environment and Climate Committee was also due to meet on Tuesday around current affairs debates concerning the Doel 1 and 2 power plants and the capacity remuneration mechanism, which should enable Belgium to ensure its energy supply in the future. The shutdown of the Belgian atom scheduled for 2025 is a major issue for pro and anti-nuclear people.

At the Computer crime unit, Olivier Bogaert recalls for his part that the motive of cyber attacks is generally to “make money”, “to block the system, to launch ransomware”, but also that “States can be placed in situations of destabilization of IT infrastructures to create pressure ”.

The other question concerns the capacity of Belgian institutions to resist cyberattacks, knowing that these intrusions are today perceived as a major threat by all States on the planet. Already in 2013, hackers paralyzed the telecoms operator Belgacom, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s office. The trail had come up here in China as well.

On Thursday in the House, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo indicated that Defense will take on a number of new tasks in the future, including the deployment of intrusive and reactive capabilities to respond to hackers. Belgium has requested € 79 million from the EU to strengthen its cybersecurity.


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