Chinese Spies Hacked a Belgian Parliament Member’s Laptop

Chinese Spies Hacked a Belgian Parliament Member’s Laptop

Penka Hristovska Penka Hristovska
Published on: April 26, 2024

The laptop of Els Van Hoof, the chairperson of the Belgian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, was hacked by Chinese spies back in 2021, she revealed in a recent interview.

She discovered the cyber attack on her laptop 3 years after the incident through an FBI report last month, she explained in a VRT interview. Van Hoof added that the attack targeted 400 members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), an international association network of politicians working on human rights in China, which includes her as a member.

Els Van Hoof said hackers obtained her IP address after she opened several emails on her laptop.

“They looked like emails from an international agency,” Van Hoof says. “The emails were about Donald Trump and human rights. They seemed very innocent and informative. But the intention was to get into our systems,” she said in the interview. “I have also opened those emails and that means I have become tracked in all my doings on a digital level. That is a very uncomfortable feeling,”

The extent of the damage from the cyber attack is still unknown. According to the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, which cited the FBI report, the locations of the affected laptops have been monitored since 2021.
“State security told me that they could not find out what the spies saw and tracked, but that I should assume it was everything,” Van Hoof told VRT. “I feel that I am actually working with my windows and doors open. The intention is obviously to intimidate you and make you shut up.”

Els Van Hoof told VRT that she has faced ongoing intimidation since assuming her current role. She cited examples such as threatening letters from industry figures and the Chinese embassy, and a committee hearing on the Uyghur ethnic minority being canceled due to a system shutdown.

“For example, the Chinese ambassador has already intimidated me several times. I have already received letters saying I am playing with fire. We also wanted to hold a hearing on the situation of Uighurs in China. When we wanted to start, the whole system went down,” she explained.

Els Van Hoof told VRT that Belgian state security services inspected her laptop in September 2021 but found nothing suspicious.

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