Belgium seeks to shore up defenses against cyberattack

2017 05 17 11 42 07 205 Belgian Flag 400

The large-scale ransomware attack that hit many National Health Service (NHS) facilities in the U.K. has led many countries to urgently review their own cybersecurity measures. Although Belgian hospitals were not affected by the attack, the Belgian government has released a countrywide action plan.

Belgian telecom minister Alexander de Croo announced plans to open a 24/7 call center to assist businesses affected by cyberattacks, according to a 16 May report on In addition, the Belgian government also plans to develop an early warning system for cyberthreats, and provide a web tool to help government bodies analyze online risks.

De Croo announced the initiative after a special cabinet meeting on justice and security issues.

No effect on Belgian hospitals

The WannaCry ransomware attack wreaked havoc in the U.K. and around the world on 12 May. However, so far no such far-reaching cyberattack has taken place against Belgian hospitals, and none suffered from the latest ransomware attack, said Dr. Erik Ranschaert, PhD, chief of the department of radiology in the Holy Heart hospital in Mol, Belgium.

Dr. Erik Ranschaert, PhD, from Holy Heart hospital in Mol, Belgium.Dr. Erik Ranschaert, PhD, from Holy Heart hospital in Mol, Belgium.

"The danger and effect of the cyberattack has been discussed within our network. There has been no damage so far," he told "The systems are being evaluated more thoroughly now, internally and with the vendors. There is also an insurance to cover potential damage. At this moment the protection level is sufficient."

He added that in a top-level meeting with hospital directors and a communication specialist from KU Leuven, the largest academic hospital in Belgium, management was clear: There was no danger for Belgian hospitals, but staff need to be vigilant. This message was reiterated at the beginning of the week.

"Our communication department sent a message on Monday asking all personnel to be careful with their email and not to open any weird messages at work," said Ranschaert, pointing out the risk is probably lower in a country like Belgium that does not have an NHS-type setup in which all hospitals are connected to the same system.

Security breaches

Although Belgium so far has escaped a large-scale cyberattack, Belgium has not totally avoided internet security breaches involving healthcare data. In January 2016, the data of 200,000 patients was leaked into the public domain by Belgian IT company iGuana.

The firm specialized in digitization of old printed patient data but used an insecure web server and internet connection to exchange medical information. For one month, all patient demographic data were freely accessible online. It also came to light the same company sent confidential paper medical files to social institutions such as prisons for workers to remove the staples.

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