Half of Belgian companies fall victim to ‘successful’ cyberattacks

Half of Belgian companies fall victim to ‘successful’ cyberattacks
Police officer working at the Federal Computer Crime Unit (FCCU) in Brussels, Thursday 06 May 2021. Credit: Eric Lalmand / Belga

Following a cyberattack which successfully crippled the City of Antwerp’s public administration this month, experts are once again raising the alarm over Belgian cybersecurity. Traditionally, Belgium has lagged behind in this field, with government agencies and major companies falling victim to often elaborate attacks against their digital infrastructure.

Nathalie Ragheno, Cybersecurity Manager at the Federation of Belgian Entreprises (FEB), told RTL Info on Monday that many Belgium companies are still vulnerable to online attacks, with around half of Belgian companies have already been victim of a ‘successful’ cyberattack.

“It’s very worrying,” she said of the recent cyberattack against Antwerp. “We must realise that a municipal administration holds an incredible amount of data on citizens. Your whole life, your identity card, information on your building permit… It’s a huge amount of information. The judicial police have also been locked out, so there may also be information on investigations.”

A December 2021 cyberattack against Belgium’s Defence Ministry, which locked officials out of their email accounts and forced employees to rely on unsecured connections such as WhatsApp, cost the State €2.25 million.

If Belgian public administrations are vulnerable to attack, so too are Belgian companies, who often do not possess the proper training or investment to prevent targeted attacks.

“It’s a daily problem. There is not a single company which has not suffered attacks. To date, we can say that one in two companies in Belgium has already suffered a successful computer attack,” Ragheno said.

Cyberattacks vary wildly in complexity and target. The most common fraud attempt against businesses is phishing, whereby fraudsters send fictitious emails to companies attempting to steal money or personal information while often masquerading as clients, suppliers, or banking providers.

“If you look at their anti-spam system or junk mail, a company experiences more or less 600 attacks per week. Most of them are fortunately thwarted, otherwise things would become unlivable. The life of our companies could not continue, because a successful computer attack means the total shutdown of activity,” the expert said.

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Cyberattacks can have a real world impact, especially on critical infrastructure. This year, a massive ransomware attack targeted the Vivalia hospital group in the Luxembourg province, threatening to publish client information. As a result of the attack, operations were cancelled, patient records were made unavailable, and resulted in the company posting a massive loss of €9.7 million this year.

Ragheno said that the Federal Government was stepping up to help private companies deal with these threats and protect their client’s data. “They have created a cybersecurity coalition, which is a platform made up of public, private, and academic authorities that fight for cybersecurity. There is training and awareness-raising.”

The FEB cybersecurity manager also pointed to government resources such as Safeonweb.be, which provide tips and tricks to companies and private individuals on cybersecurity.

Belgium has earmarked €110 million to beef up the country’s cyber security capabilities. Likewise, the Federal Judicial Police is asking for investment and around 1,000 extra staff to battle increasing digital crime.

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