Government as digital watchdog

Tomorrow is Today

Cyber security is not only important for companies. Official authorities are increasingly confronted with digital attacks as well. In addition, the government plays an important role as cyber security watchdog. ”Transnational co-operation is hugely important, because the attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated,” says Freddy Dezeure of the European Computer Emergency Response Team.

”The Internet can be a hostile environment. And that not only applies to military organisations, but also to public bodies, companies and even to you and me.”

Ian West, head Cyber Security NATO

Keep the economy ticking

Cyber-criminality is a risk related to the growing digitisation of the economy and society. With its Tomorrow is Today awareness campaign, Deloitte wants to raise the awareness of chief executives. ”Companies have to embrace the opportunities of innovation, but at the same time we must arm ourselves against cyber-criminality,” says Chris Verdonck, Partner and Cyber Lead at Deloitte. ”And the government plays a very important role in this.”

The government must guarantee all normal flows of interaction. Infrastructure, such as financial flows or energy, must be guaranteed at all times, so that the economy can keep on ticking. ”As an increasing share of interactions is digital, the government must also ensure a secure environment on the Internet,” says Verdonck. How can the government fill the role of digital watchdog? ”By laying down a proper legal framework so that cyber-criminality can be penalised. And ensuring sufficient resources are made available to carry out the Belgian cyber strategy.“

Not only the watchdog, also a target

Official authorities also have to deal with cyber-criminality in another way: as a target. Increasingly, official institutions and politicians have to deal with attacks by hackers. Often, however, this concerns organised crime. This is not about financial profit, but should be seen more in the light of political or diplomatic developments, e.g. espionage for other governments or the actions of ecological or social activists.

This means that governments, in addition to their role as watchdog, also need to arm themselves. There's still work to do. “It is a generally known fact that investments in cyber security are lagging,” says Verdonck. “Belgium's complexity plays a big role in this.” How can we change that? “We have a strategy, but few resources. The Belgian government must appoint the right people and give them the necessary budgets."

In addition to their role as watchdog, governments also need to arm themselves

Prevention provided by CERT

At European level, cybercrime has been high on the agenda for years. Under Neelie Kroes, former European commissioner for the Digital Agenda, the Computer Emergency Response Team or CERT-EU was established in 2011. ”We provide preventative help to all European institutions to protect against cyber-attacks, we are responsible for the detection of these attacks and make experts available in case of incidents,” says Freddy Dezeure, the Flemish person in charge of CERT-EU.

Four years after its establishment, the CERT team consists of 20 experts. This year, a further expansion to 25 employees is planned. “We are looking for very specific profiles: network experts, forensic experts and IT people who receive further training,” says Dezeure. “We also regularly receive temporary reinforcement from people sent here by the member states. A win-win situation: the European institutions are sometimes avant-garde and often have to deal with attacks by hackers. You can learn a lot here.”

Providing information and raising the awareness of the European institutions is very important for CERT. ”We give advice to the institutions to increase the understanding of cyber security. And at the same time we train IT people and technical people to pay attention to specific matters that make their infrastructure vulnerable,” says Dezeure. ”We recently pointed out the impact of cyber-attacks to the Directorates-General and the political level.“ This impact is considerable: it is an everyday risk for diplomacy, the economic markets, free trade agreement negotiations, the European Bank, etc…

NATO’s priorities

NATO also has a special institution that watches over cyber security: the NCI Agency Cyber Security. ”NATO is a coalition of 28 countries and collaborates with several non-members. To work efficiently, we usually rely on computer networks,” says Ian West, head of Cyber Security at NATO. ”We make sure that NATO is able to operate digitally in a secure environment.“ And that can be a very challenging. “Take the missions in Afghanistan or other anti-terror operations. Communication during these missions increasingly occurs via networks between laptops, computers on boats or aircraft and mobile systems. Hacking is just one of the many threats at that time.”

Both West and Dezeure have noticed that the cyber-threat is becoming increasingly complex. The attacks are getting more sophisticated and more technical. A large group of stakeholders is using internet and computer networks to achieve its objectives. “We have to be aware of this threat at all times,” says West. “The Internet can be a hostile environment. And that not only applies to military organisations, but also to public bodies, companies and even to you and me.”

Cyber-threat is becoming increasingly complex. The attacks are getting more sophisticated and more technical.

Staying ahead

One of CERT's main tools to combat the hackers is its website, which provides a current overview of all the available information about cyber-attacks. ”We developed an automatic tool which continuously visits and scans more than 3,000 sites worldwide looking for the latest news on cyber-threats. For now we are one to two hours ahead of any reports on cyber-threats via Twitter,” says Dezeure. Speed is crucial, because hackers adapt in no time. ”We closely follow the trends, but we can only look ahead two to six months, that's how fast it goes.”

To expand its know-how, CERT uses an international network of experts, both in government departments and from the private sector. ”There is no competition: the threat is cross-sectoral and transnational,” says Dezeure. ”We work with partners such as the Belgian Computer Crime Unit, US-CERT, NATO, Belgacom and a whole series of others.“ CERT also has a partnership with Deloitte, which in turn started working with Luc Beirens, the former head of the Belgian Computer Crime Unit and one of the leading Belgian experts in cyber security.

Getaway car

”These collaborations are very important to stay ahead of the hackers,” says Verdonck. ”Compare it with a bank robbery: if you know what getaway car the thieves are using, you might be able to recognise them easier the next time. Particularly with attacks that are able to get through the defence, it is crucial to exchange information. If we understand the cyber-criminals' way of working, we can combat them better as well.”

De Tijd (26/3)


Cyberveiligheid is niet alleen een belangrijk thema voor bedrijven. Ook officiële instanties worden steeds meer geconfronteerd met digitale aanvallen. Daarnaast speelt de overheid een belangrijke rol als bewaker van de cyberveiligheid. ‘Transnationale samenwerking is enorm belangrijk, want de aanvallen worden steeds gesofisticeerder’, zegt Freddy Dezeure van het Europese Computer Emergency Response Team.

Published: 26 March 2015

L'Echo (26/3)


La cybersécurité n’est pas cruciale pour les seules entreprises. Les instances officielles elles aussi sont confrontées à un nombre croissant d’attaques informatiques. En outre, les pouvoirs publics jouent un rôle central de gardien de la cybersécurité. « La collaboration transnationale revêt une grande importance, car les attaques sont de plus en plus sophistiquées », observe Freddy Dezeure, de la Computer Emer-gency Response Team européenne.

Published: 26 March 2015
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