SPIEGEL ONLINE

SPIEGEL ONLINE

09/20/2013 04:55 PM

Cyber Attack

Belgians Angered by British Spying

By in Brussels

The hacking attack by Britain's GCHQ intelligence service on Belgian telecoms provider Belgacom has angered politicians in the country. Belgium plays host to the EU's top institutions as well as NATO, and Prime Minister Elio di Rupo is considering diplomatic retaliation.

Earlier on Friday, SPIEGEL reported that Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intelligence agency conducted cyber attacks against partially state-owned Belgian telecommunications provider Belgacom, triggering a wave of outrage in the country.

"We will look very carefully at the information that SPIEGEL exposed this morning," Prime Minister Elio di Rupo said. The Belgian leader said his government deeply condemns such attacks on Belgacom's communications networks. If the hypothesis is confirmed, he said, his government would take the appropriate action.

Di Rupo added that Belgium was a popular target because it hosts many of the most important European Union institutions, universities and corporations, as well as NATO. He said his government would increase funding to increase Internet security and also move to decisively implement a new cyber strategy.

'The Virus Has Been Eliminated'

A "top secret" GCHQ presentation from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden indicates that the project, which carried the codename "Operation Socialist," was aimed at enabling "better exploitation of Belgacom" and at improving understanding of the provider's infrastructure. The presentation is undated, but a further document indicates that access has been possible since at least 2010.

Responding to questions from SPIEGEL, Belgacom, whose major customers include the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, said the firm first encountered signs of a virus internally on June 21. Four days later, the company hired an external consulting firm -- Fox IT of the Netherlands -- to examine the issue more closely. On July 16, executives of the company were then informed of the full scope. Belgacom has since referred the matter to prosecutors.

"The virus has been eliminated," a spokesman for Belgacom stated, and now the investigation is being conducted by government authorities.

'Merkel Has Massively Damaged United Europe '

Belgacom had been the subject of considerable criticism in recent days, because Belgian politicians had accused the company of not correctly stating the facts about the scale and background of the spying attacks. The Belgian daily Le Soir wrote recently, "Spying at Belgacom: It's far from over."

Suspicions in Belgium were initially directed at the NSA. According to the contents of the presentation, however, that suspicion cannot be confirmed. What it does indicate is that the British deployed a spying technology which was developed by the NSA. The GCHQ slides indicate the attack was directed at several Belgacom employees whose computers had been planted with spying software using an attack technology referred to in the slides as a "Quantum Insert" (QI).

Addressing recent reports of GCHQ spying on Europe, Jan Phillip Albrecht, a German member of the European Parliament with the Green Party, also directed highly critical remarks at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is preparing for a national election on Sunday. "With her silence about the massive surveillance measures of Britain's GCHQ intelligence service, Angela Merkel, as the most important EU leader, has massively damaged united Europe."

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