Wednesday

13th Dec 2017

Belgacom downplays UK hacking allegations at EU hearing

  • Belgacom is a major supplier of communications services to EU institutions in Brussels (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Belgian telecommunications firm Belgacom has played down revelations it was hacked by British intelligence.

The state-owned company, which supplies services to EU institutions and whose subsidiary, Bics, handles data transfers between Europe and the Middle East, sent two top men to answer questions at an EU parliament hearing on Thursday (3 October).

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Its secretary general, Dirk Lybaert, told MEPs: "This is a kind of attack that a single company or country would be unable to withstand on its own … The intruder had massive resources, sophisticated means and a steadfast intent to break into our network."

But he declined to speculate on the "hypothesis" that Britain's spy hub, GCHQ, did it, as reported by German daily Der Spiegel last month on the basis of files exposed by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Belgacom vice president Geert Standaert echoed Lybaert in saying the malware was "extremely sophisticated."

He said "at the moment, Belgacom cannot confirm or deny allegations in the press [on British involvement]" because the case is under scrutiny by Belgian prosecutors.

He noted that Belgacom discovered the spyware in June, but it does not know how long ago it was compromised.

He added that it penetrated just 124 out of its 26,000 IT systems and that it has been "cleaned out" over the past few months. "The attack had no impact on customers," he said.

Frank Robben, Belgium's data protection chief, also claimed the intercepted data was on a minor scale and that Belgacom's "rapid reaction" fixed the bug.

For their part, MEPs voiced frustration on what they called Belgacom's evasiveness.

"Why would Belgacom internal systems be a target for a state? We’re talking about a massive, sophisticated attack," Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld, who chaired the hearing, said.

Claude Moraes, a British centre-left MEP, noted: "You have allegations of the UK spying on Belgian telephone systems which were part of the infrastructure of the European Union … I think that's quite an unusual allegation and of course it can't just stand, it has to be investigated."

MEPs also criticised the UK for declining to send a speaker.

They left an empty chair for GCHQ chief Iain Lobban, who had been invited, but who did not come because the UK says EU bodies have no jurisdiction on security affairs.

Two British security sources did speak out in a report also on Thursday by British state broadcaster, the BBC, on the broader US and UK snooping affair, however.

Baroness Neville-Jones, a former UK intelligence chief, who is currently Britain's special representative to business on cyber security, told the BBC's flagship news programme, Newsnight, that mass surveillance is needed to weed out terrorists.

She said the ethical issues raised by Snowden are nothing new because "there has always been a tension" between security and privacy.

David Omand, a former GCHQ head, attacked Snowden for compromising security assets.

He said the fact Snowden is now in Russia means the Kremlin has access to the thousands of secret files which he downloaded from the US' National Security Agency, in a coup which Moscow "could never have dreamed of, even in the days of Burgess, Philby and Maclean," referring to three Cold-War-era Russian agents.

Glen Greenwald, a journalist for British daily The Guardian, who helped Snowden bring the secrets to light, told Newsnight that Snowden's files are so well encrypted that neither US nor Russian intelligence could crack them.

"Data is stored on thumb drives, and on those thumb drives are very sophisticated means of encryption shells, that, as I said before, and I know this because I’ve read the documents that I have on this, not even the NSA can break," he said.

Romania wants EU signal on Schengen membership

Bucharest expects other member states to decide on its accession to the passport-free area before it takes the rotating EU presidency on 1 January 2019 - amid criticism of a controversial new justice reform.

Germany says China using LinkedIn to recruit informants

Germany's spy agency says the Chinese state is trying to recruit high-ranking German officials via social media outlets like LinkedIn. It accused Chinese intelligence of setting up fake profiles to lure them into becoming informants.

Germany says China using LinkedIn to recruit informants

Germany's spy agency says the Chinese state is trying to recruit high-ranking German officials via social media outlets like LinkedIn. It accused Chinese intelligence of setting up fake profiles to lure them into becoming informants.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs vote to allow phosphate additives in kebabs
  2. Babis government sworn in in Czech Republic
  3. Russia looks to crypto-currencies to evade EU sanctions
  4. Juncker embroiled in Luxembourg wire-tapping trial
  5. Kurz close to forming new Austrian right-wing government
  6. Ministers reach deal on fish quotas but overfishing continues
  7. UK parliament to vote on right to veto final Brexit deal
  8. French government rules out Corsican autonomy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. Brits in EU-27 are uncertain, alone and far from protected
  2. 2018 fishing quotas agreed - but Brexit muddies waters
  3. Medical HQ to spearhead EU military push
  4. Facebook to shift ad revenue away from Ireland
  5. EU renews glyphosate approval, pledges transparency
  6. Romania searching for EU respectability
  7. Last chance for Poland to return property to rightful owners
  8. Commission attacks Tusk on 'anti-European' migrant plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level