[Coronavirus] Extremists inciting pandemic violence, Belgian spies warn

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Political extremists are exploiting the pandemic to incite violence and foreign spies are trying to hack sensitive video-meetings, Belgium's security service has warned.

EUobserver

Extreme-right and left groups are trying to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to stir violence in Belgium, its security services have warned.

Russian coronavirus propaganda is amplifying far-right ideas.

And Belgian and EU officials, or anyone else doing video-conferences, is at extra risk of hostile penetration, Belgium's homeland security service, the Veiligheid van de Staat (VSSE), said.

The VSSE raised the alarm in Flemish, French, and. English in an online pamphlet entitled "The hidden danger behind Covid-19", published last week.

In one example, a far-right group, the Knights of Flanders, was pressing a conspiracy theory on social media that coronavirus came from the common flu vaccine in a bid to "undermine the authority of the Belgian government and the medical world," the VSSE said.

Two far-right Belgian political parties, Nation and a Nation-splinter group called the Parti National Européen (PNE), were inciting violence between minorities.

Nation, for instance, circulated fake news "that a fatwa 'called on infected Muslims to cough in the face of disbelievers'," the VSSE said.

PNE was one of a "legion" of far-right groups "hammering on that there is a link between the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic and immigration," the VSSE noted.

The PNE targeted a migrant centre in the Belgian town of Mouscron, calling for it to be shut because it was "a source of contamination," the VSSE said.

There were also dangerous ideas on the extreme left.

Indymedia, for example, which the VSSE called an "anarchist website", called for "exploitation of the Covid-19 epidemic to commit violent acts against the police, prison officers, and telecommunications infrastructure".

But the far right had a helping hand from the Kremlin, the VSSE noted.

Russian state media were also pushing claims that migrants were "disseminating coronavirus", the VSSE said.

It was part of the "Kremlin's strategy to stimulate dissension and mistrust of national and European authorities with the aim of undermining social cohesion," the VSSE noted.

A mysterious group called Squadra Europa was publishing both pro-Russian propaganda and far-right inventions, it added.

Immigration and the Islamisation of Europe were to blame for coronavirus, according to Squadra Europa, which the VSSE called a "very recent pan-European far-right movement active on Twitter and other social media".

The VSSE pamphlet came out during the lockdown in which most Belgian or EU officials, as well private-sector executives, have been forced to conduct business via videoconference.

And foreign services "can skilfully exploit" many online platforms to look and listen in, the VSSE warned.

But the Belgian spies, who are responsible for protecting EU and Nato institutions on their territory, gave tips on how to protect yourself.

Use encrypted apps and take all other laptops, tablets, and phones out of the room while making your call, the VSSE said.

Do not invite people to sensitive meetings using social media and take care where you save the audiovisual file of your event, it also advised.

The VSSE pamphlet came out amid a febrile diplomatic climate.

Aside from helping to stir far-right violence, the EU recently accused Russia of promoting "fake cures" online that were putting Europeans' lives in danger.

EU diplomats also accused China of coronavirus propaganda, causing such a backlash from Beijing that they cut the China accusations from the final draft of their report.

And both China and Russia have been caught hacking European governments and EU institutions in the past.

Behind you

Meanwhile, amid the high-tech espionage, the VSSE also gave some home-spun security tips.

"Make sure you can control what's visible behind you on camera (and therefore also by the other participants). Optionally use a virtual background," it said.

A top EU official was once red-faced when he published a photo of himself with the private mobile numbers of other top officials on the wall behind him.

But even immaculate online hygiene might not be enough to keep out bugs if your data stream flows through hostile territory, the VSSE also said.

"Finally, it should be taken into account [whether] your videoconference passes through an [IT] infrastructure which is not necessarily located in Belgium," it pointed out.

The Belgian advice came amid Chinese plans to install 5G data infrastructure in Europe as well as a Chinese buying spree of important European firms.

Many EU companies are losing money due to the pandemic slowdown.

But governments should not be tempted to sell "strategic enterprises", especially in the "high-technology sector" to foreign powers, the VSSE said.

  • [Coronavirus] Extremists inciting pandemic violence, Belgian spies warn photo


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