PM says “We’ll see what more we can do” after cyberattack

The Federal Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Flemish liberal) has spoken to VRT News about what he describes as an “unprecedented cyberattack” on the Belnet network that started just before Tuesday lunchtime. Mr De Croo says that for some time now the Federal Government has been investing more in cyber security. “Sadly, this is the new day-to-day reality, and we need to be prepared for it”. 

The DDOS attack on the Belnet servers that provide network services for numerous colleges, universities, research centres, public services, government departments and state-owned companies involved the sending of huge quantities of data through the network. This stretched its capacity causing sites to slow to a snail’s paces or fail to load. 

Mr De Croo has no illusions. The Prime Minister says that cyberattacks of this kind are now part of everyday life and we need to be prepared for them. “Every day our country is exposed to cyberattacks, but the scale of this one was something new to us. This is something that we have already seen in other countries”. 

A criminal investigation has been launched to try and find the culprits. The Federal Judicial Authorities’ Spokesman Eric Van de Sypt told VRT News that based on a complaint made by Belnet to the Federal Police Service's Computer Crime Unit the Federal Judicial Authorities have launched an investigation the aim of which is to find those responsible for the cyberattack. Mr Van de Sypt added that this was a criminal act, and that the investigation will also look into whether any data has been stolen.

However, an initial investigation by the Belgian Centre for Cyber Security has found the nature of the attack was purely sabotage and that it is unlikely that any data has been stolen. 

How can we prevent this happening again?

Could we do anything to stop this kind of thing from happening again? Experts in the field say that this would be all but impossible. Huge extra capacity would be required in order to prevent this kind of attack from having any repercussions. It would be a question of weighing up the extra costs against the eventual hindrance that an occasional cyberattack of this nature might cause.

Belnet’s Davina Luyten told VRT News that “Belnet is permanently investing in cyber security. We tailor the means given over to this to the risk that there is at the particular moment. Yesterday’s attack was unprecedented in scale and the means that we had at our disposal were insufficient to protect against it”.

Nevertheless, Belnet was able to react quickly to the attack and many of the sites that went offline were back up within two or three hours. 

Prime Minister says “cyber security is a priority’

The Federal Prime Minister Alexander De Croo is keen to stress that considerable funding is being given to cyber security.

"This has been a priority for the Federal Government for some time. During the past few years, we have made considerable investments in (cyber) security. Extra funding is provided in this year’s budget and in there is a specific chapter on cyber security in the European Investment Plan."

Nevertheless, Mr De Croo intends to examine what extra measures the government can take. Not least because one of the sites that was impacted by Tuesday’s cyberattack was the site used by many vaccination centres across Belgium. Thankfully the centres were able to continue working. “But we must ensure that everything possible is done to prevent this kind of attack”, Mr De Croo told VRT News. 

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