Documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is responsible for the hack attack on Belgacom, Belgium’s largest telecommunications company.
Investigators have determined that the goal of the attack wasn’t to sabotage the organization, but to gather intelligence.
Belgian authorities haven’t officially named any suspects. However, they did attribute the attack to a state-sponsored entity. Shortly after, rumors started surfacing regarding the implication of the United States National Security Agency (NSA) or the GCHQ.
Now, German publication Der Spiegel reports that the GCHQ is responsible for the attack. The Snowden leaks show that the British spy agency was running an operation called Operation Socialist. The goal was to harvest information on Belgacom’s infrastructure and to “enable better exploitation” of the company.
Documents show that the intelligence agency has had access to Belgacom International Carrier Services (BICS), a joint venture with South Africa’s MTN and Swisscom, since 2010. Interestingly, the GCHQ is said to have used spying technology developed by the NSA to carry out the attack.
A GCHQ presentation seen by Der Spiegel reveals that the British agency targeted several Belgacom employees. These employees were lured to malicious websites that were cleverly set up to push a piece of malware onto their computers. The targeted individuals had access to significant sections of the Belgian company’s infrastructure.
The presentation in question is undated. However, it shows that, at one point, the GCHQ was planning to access the telecoms firm’s central roaming router. The goal was to use this access to launch man-in-the-middle attacks on the traffic of smartphone users.
The spy agency apparently described the operation against Belgacom as being successful. Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo strongly condemned the attack on Belgacom.