British spy agency hacked Belgian phone operator: report

20th September 2013, Comments 0 comments

Britain's intelligence services were behind a cyber attack on state-owned Belgian telecom giant Belgacom, a German news weekly reported Friday.

Spiegel magazine said documents it had seen from fugitive US leaker Edward Snowden's "archive" indicated that the goal of the project, codenamed "Operation Socialist", was for "better spying" on Belgacom.

That information was undated, it said, but another document indicated access had been possible since at least 2010.

Spiegel noted that Belgacom's customers included European Union institutions.

The company's BICS unit -- which operates huge volumes of phone and data traffic in Africa and the Middle East -- was also on the radar of Britain's eavesdropping agency GCHQ, the news weekly added.

Belgacom said Monday its network had suffered an "intrusion" which a media report blamed on the US National Security Agency (NSA) as it snooped on communications in Africa and the Middle East.

Belgian federal prosecutors also said that Belgacom had filed a complaint in July for "non-authorised access" to its servers.

They said the hacking could have only been done by an entity "with significant financial and logistical means" and that suspicions were circling on an act of "international state espionage".

In response, the Belgian government announced that if the involvement of a foreign government was confirmed, "appropriate action would be taken".

Belgian newspaper De Standaard has reported that the intrusion, which it said began in 2011 at the latest, was the work of the NSA but did not reveal its sources.

Spiegel said that GCHQ information indicated that the British had used spy technology developed by the NSA.

Based on documents from Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia as he flees a US bid to prosecute him, Britain's Guardian newspaper has published details about mass surveillance programmes conducted by the NSA and GCHQ.

Spiegel reported in June that the EU was also a target of the NSA's spy programme.

© 2013 AFP

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