The commune of Willebroek to the north of Brussels has become the latest victim of hackers, who are demanding a ransom paid in bitcoin to liberate the municipal computer system, the commune announced on its website.
The attack on the system was discovered in a nursing home during the night of Friday to Saturday. At present, the commune is investigating how extensive the damage is. An initial meeting of the municipal crisis group met yesterday afternoon to evaluate the situation.
“Clearly, all of our computers are affected, everything is down in our commune,” said mayor Eddy Bevers. “We’ll carry on without computers and our information system, but we won’t be taking any risks as far as safety is concerned. For example we’ll be looking into where we can bring in extra staff to help carry on without the computer system.”
The attack is the second in Flanders in a short time. Two weeks ago Picanol, a west Flanders business that makes weaving machines, was hit by an attack which stopped production for days.
Willebroek, which lies at the point where the Brussels canal joins the Scheldt river, has called in the police. All that is known about the hackers at present is that they have demanded a ransom made up of bitcoin, on payment of which they will release the computer system back to the commune.
“But at this moment there is not even a suggestion of agreeing to pay,” Bevers said. As far as the police Mechelen-Willebroek are aware at this point, no other municipality has been targetted by the hackers.
Meanwhile Bart Somers, Flemish minister for the interior and administrative affairs (and former mayor of neighbouring Mechelen), has called for local authorities to be better protected against possible hacking. Local administrations need to devote more attention to cyber-safety.
“Everyone who is active online these days could be the next victims of a cyber-attack,” he said. “That’s why it is important to devote for resources to protecting our digital systems and keeping them safe. Local authorities are the closest to the people, and organise all kinds of services. We therefore have every interest in ensuring they have a robust and secure information system.”
In a recent report, Audit Vlaanderen – the region’s auditor – found that hackers they hired to test local authority system security were able to gain access in full or in part to 24 out of 28 cases.