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Belgium Names China in Hacking Incidents
Whether hackers breeched government network not known
Ludwig De Braeckeleer (ludwig)     Print Article 
Published 2008-05-04 06:02 (KST)   
One good spy is worth 10,000 men.
--Chinese Proverb
Over the last few weeks, hackers have repeatedly attempted to break inside the computer network of the Belgium Federal Government as well as other organizations located in Belgium.

On Friday, May 2, Jo Vandeurzen, the Belgian minister of justice, announced that his government believes the attacks were conducted from China, most likely at the request of Beijing. He admitted that he could not provide irrefutable evidence.

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"The context of this affair and all the clues lead to China," Vandeurzen said. The Belgian Minister added that it was not known whether the hackers had succeeded in their attempt to hack the Belgian government network.

Although it is also unclear why Beijing would target the Belgium network, Vandeurzen suggested that China's interest likely results from the presence in the country of most of the European Union institutions as well as the Headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Vandeurzen also suggested that the role played by Belgium in Central Africa might be relevant to this affair.

"There is an ongoing investigation, but I can tell you that we have more than mere suspicions," a spokesperson of the Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

The Surete de l' Etat, a Belgian Intelligence Agency equivalent to Britain's MI5, has confirmed a "clear and real threat" to the security of the state.

Karel De Gucht, the controversial Belgian minister of foreign affairs, had already told parliament that his ministry was the object of cyber-spying conducted by Chinese agents several weeks ago.

It is not clear at the moment why Belgian officials have decided to go public with these allegations. In the past, the Belgian government reacted with great discretion to this kind of affair.

In 2005, a Chinese defector revealed the magnitude of the Chinese spying effort against European governments and technology industry, alleging among other things that hundreds of students and scholars were involved in espionage in European countries.

"There is a large Chinese intelligence operation in northern Europe spanning communications, space, defense, chemicals and heavy industries," said Claude Monique, a Brussels-based intelligence analyst.

"The Chinese agent has given details of hundreds of experts and their activities. As a result national inquiries have been launched, certainly by the German, French, Netherlands and Belgian agencies and, I believe, in Britain too."

"The Chinese operate at many levels, from the pure intelligence agents based at embassies to researchers sent to Europe for training to individual citizens who work apparently independently for 5 or 10 years until they are in a position to prove their usefulness," an intelligence official said.

The phenomenon is by no mean limited to Europe. In the United States, the FBI has estimated that spying activity against technology companies conducted by Chinese agents is increasing at the annual rate of 20 to 30 percent. In the Los Angeles area, it is not entirely clear whether the FBI is infiltrating the Chinese Mafia, or if the opposite is taking place.

"I think you see it where something that would normally take 10 years to develop takes them two or three," said David Szady, the chief of FBI counterintelligence operations in 2005.

"What they are looking for are the systems or materials or the designs or the batteries or the air-conditioning or the things that make that thing tick," Szady said. "That's what they are very good at collecting, going after both the private sector, the industrial complexes, as well as the colleges and universities in collecting scientific developments that they need," Szady added.

Many experts believe that it is thanks to industrial espionage that Chinese scientists have managed to match the US, Japan and Europe technology in various areas such as supercomputing, communications, space and nano technologies.

Some military advances seem suspicious too, such as a new cruise missile extremely similar to the US Tomahawk or a sea-borne defense system that looks like the twin of the Aegis.

In their 2007 report to Congress, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) stated that "Chinese espionage activities in the United States are so extensive that they comprise the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies."
Ludwig De Braeckeleer has a PhD in nuclear sciences. He teaches physics and international humanitarian law. He blogs on "The GaiaPost."
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ludwig De Braeckeleer

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