Another Belgian MP falls victim to Chinese cyberattack

Another Belgian MP falls victim to Chinese cyberattack
Els Van Hoof (CD&V). Credit: Belga / Hatim Kaghat

Another Belgian MP has fallen victim to a Chinese cyberattack. Els Van Hoof (CD&V) was targeted in the same round of attacks as Samuel Cogolati (Écolo) in 2021, according to an FBI report.

Van Hoof is chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee and like Cogolati, was hacked in 2021 via a phishing email. Suspicious activity on the MP's computer was investigated early on but no further action was taken at the time.

Since then, an FBI investigation has confirmed that hackers gained access to Van Hoof's computer and IP address, meaning that her location has likely been tracked since 2021. The full implications of the attack remain unclear.

Both Van Hoof and Cogolati are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a global forum that safeguards democratic rights, and the MPs believe their activities in this domain place a target on their backs.

"The fact that the Chinese regime can locate me is very worrying," Van Hoof told Het Nieuwsblad, adding that this is not the first attempt to dissuade her from being vocal about democracy in China. "The Chinese ambassador has tried to intimidate me on several occasions. But I don't intend to give in and will continue to express my opinion on Taiwan and on the situation of the Uyghurs (China's Muslim minority)."

The MP is calling for the creating of a parliamentary team dedicated to digital security as well as the provision of information sessions for politicians about online safety.

Europe is 'submissive'

Speaking to The Brussels Times in March, Cogolati expressed frustration at the fact that Europe is "submissive" in the face of cyberattacks from China. He contrasted this passivity to the tougher approach adopted by the US and the UK.

"It is very strange to discover the identity of the people who attacked me in 2021 from the American justice system," he said, adding there was virtually no official Belgian reaction to his initial disclosure about being hacked in 2023. This is down to a "lack of political will," he believes.

Van Hoof and Cogolati were two of hundreds of European politicians, activists and journalists to be targeted by the same wave of cyberattacks.

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