Belgian state telecom targeted by ‘international espionage’

Belgacom headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Belgium’s largest telecommunications service provider has fallen victim to a sophisticated cyberespionage operation that was most likely carried out by a government agency of another country. According to Flemish newspaper De Standaard, the operation targeted Belgacom, which is Belgium’s state-owned telecommunications company. The paper said that the cyberhacking was uncovered in June of this year during a routine maintenance check by technicians, who detected an “unidentified virus” that had infected several dozen mainframe computers. Belgacom’s technical experts seem to think that the malware had been active for at least two years on Belgacom’s computers, and that it specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries. Among them is Belgacom International Carrier Services (BCIS), which specializes in providing wholesale carrier services to over 1,000 telecommunications service providers across Africa and the Middle East. De Standaard’s article said that the sophisticated malware had been designed so as to prevent disruption of BCIS’ voice and Internet traffic, thus remaining unnoticed. Its ultimate goal, said the paper, was “not sabotage, but rather collecting strategic communications content”. Federal prosecutors told the Reuters news agency that the technical complexity of the virus meant that it must have been designed by “an intruder with significant financial and logistic means”. The malware’s complexity, coupled with its grand scale, “points towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage”, said the Federal prosecutors. Commenting on the story, De Standaard claimed that “everything points to the [United States] National Security Agency as the culprit” of the cyberespionage. The paper quoted a number of nationally known Belgian politicians who voiced strong criticism of the alleged perpetrators of the Belgacom operation and echoed earlier calls by German officials to suspend bilateral trade negotiations between the European Union and the US. Speaking to reporters on Monday in Brussels, Belgacom’s CEO, Didier Bellens, said the company’s technical experts had “no idea” how long its international subsidiaries had been spied on. The office of Belgium’s Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo, said in a statement that the espionage operation constituted a “violation of the integrity of a major European public company”.

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