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British snooping agency did cyberattack on Belgian telecom firm: report

- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2013

The British equivalent of the National Security Agency launched a cyberattack against Belgium's biggest telecommunications company that is being criminally investigated in Brussels, Germany's Der Spiegel newspaper reported.

New documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden show that the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a close NSA ally, code-named its cyberattack on Belgacom "Operation Socialist," Der Spiegel reported on its English-language website Friday.

A "top secret" GCHQ presentation said the goal of the project was "to enable better exploitation of" the Internet and telephone service provider and to improve understanding of its infrastructure.

The presentation is not dated, but another document seen by the paper "indicates that access [to Belgacom's internal computer systems] has been possible since 2010," Der Spiegel reported.

Belgacom, a partially state-owned firm whose clients include the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, said Monday that computer security checks had found "traces of a digital intrusion" in the company's internal system.

"Belgacom has taken all appropriate actions to protect the integrity of its IT system and to further reinforce the prevention against possible incidents," the company said in an English-language statement on its website.

The company said it had discovered malicious software on "a few tens" of workstations on the company's internal computer network, but that customer data and the company's services had not been compromised.

The company said it had filed a criminal complaint "against an unknown third party," and that the case is being investigated by the Belgian federal prosecutor.

Belgian media this week reported speculation among computer security specialists that the the software intrusion was the work of a nation-state because of its level of sophistication, and pointed a finger at the NSA. Friday's report in Der Spiegel is the first confirmation that the agency and its allies were behind the attack.

The documents stolen by Mr. Snowden, some of which have been posted online by the British newspaper The Guardian, Der Spiegel and others, show a very high level of cooperation between the NSA and GCHQ.

"The [GCHQ] presentation indicates that the British used spying technology for the operation that the NSA had developed," Der Spiegel reported.

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