Documents leaked by Edward Snowden indicates GCHQ involvement says Spiegel

Britain’s intelligence service responsible for cyber-attack against Belgacom

20.09.2013 - 10:37

Britain’s intelligence service was responsible for the cyber-attacks against Belgacom, a partly-state owned Belgian company.

According to the German magazine, der Spiegel, documents from the archive of Edward Snowden suggests that Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intelligence agency had a hack attack project against Belgacom, conducted under the codename “Operation Socialist.” The aim of the cyber-attack was “to enable better exploitation of Belgacom” and to improve understanding of the provider's infrastructure.

Belgacom is an important firm for the EU as it has as major customers important European institutions like the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament. The Belgian company ordered an internal investigation following the recent revelations about spying by the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) and determined it had been the subject of a cyber-attack. The company then referred the incident to Belgian prosecutors.

When news first emerged of the cyber-attack against Belgacom, suspicions in Belgium were initially directed at the NSA and the US. However, today’s news from the German magazine indicates that the operator of the attack was Belgium's own European Union partner Britain.

According to the slides in the GCHQ presentation, the attack was directed at several Belgacom employees and involved the planting of a highly developed attack technology referred to as a “Quantum Insert” (QI). The British agency chose to infiltrate in the computers of employees who had good access to important parts of Belgacom's infrastructure. According to the slides, the British spies were pleased with the info acquired.

The undated documents suggest that the GCHQ were on the verge of accessing the company’s central roaming router. The router is used to process international traffic, and according to the presentation, the British wanted to use this access for complex attacks on smartphone users. The head of GCHQ's Network Analysis Centre described Operation Socialist in the presentation as a success.

Last week, the Belgian government released a statement regarding the cyber-attack against Belgacom. The attack was described as an incident of cyber-espionage, saying that intrusion must have been serious in scale and scope. “If this hypothesis is confirmed and if this is in fact about cyber-espionage, the government strongly condemns this intrusion and the violation of the public firm's integrity," the statement by the government said and concluded. “In this case the government will take the necessary steps.”