The Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FEB) was an essential partner in the creation of the Cyber Security Coalition; this cross-industry employers’ organization represents companies in Belgium’s three regions. Nathalie Ragheno, Senior Adviser at FEB and currently Director at the Cyber Security Coalition, explains why it has a key part to play in our national economy. 

What were the motives and drivers for setting up the Cyber Security Coalition, and why did FEB so fully support this initiative? 

In 2012, Belgacom (now Proximus) was hacked. The company contacted FEB to propose joining forces to fight cybercrime. We rapidly discovered that this responsibility should be shared by the government, the private sector and academia. The best way to achieve our goals was by working together, and sharing experiences and perspectives. 

FEB had always been aware of the economic and social potential of new online technologies, and we have accepted our role in promoting the digital economy. At the same time, Belgian companies need a secure cyberspace in which they can operate without fear. While digital technology offers tremendous advantages, it is – as we all know – not without risks. The topic of cybersecurity affects all public and private companies and is increasingly important, proving the good sense of this initiative. 

The first chairperson of the Coalition was Christine Darville. What has it meant for the sector to have a woman in such a function? 

Christine Darville, now honorary chairwoman, was the obvious choice to be the first chair of the new coalition. Christine has been a great help in setting up the Coalition’s governance, and in instilling a spirit of collaboration between the different partners; we are very appreciative of her hard work and accomplishments. She has been and remains a role model for women in our sector. Speaking of which, did you know that the first person to win the Belgium’s Cyber Security Personality of the Year was also a woman? 

You have several years of experience in the field. What interests you most in cybersecurity? 

As a representative of FEB, I am particularly interested in the tools that can help companies through the difficulties that arise from an attack. It is essential to use all possible means to help the victimized organizations – whether big, small or even self-employed entrepreneurs – who can find themselves totally helpless in the face of an unprecedented situation beyond their control. 

Another key area for me is personal data breaches and GDPR compliance. I have specialized in data protection for almost 30 years, and have been a member of the Knowledge Centre of the Belgian Data Protection Authority since August 2022. I am very concerned about the risks of personal data breaches, and the people who are thereby linked to cyber incidents. This is certainly not an unfounded concern, when we hear about the cyberattacks on hospitals and municipalities: data controllers who hold a lot of personal and very sensitive data. In 2017, the Coalition set up its Focus Group Privacy to take on this aspect. 

Which achievements by the Coalition have enhanced the Belgian economy, in your opinion? 

The first major achievement of the Coalition was the Cyber Security Incident Management Guide, which the Coalition produced in partnership with the Centre for Cyber Security Belgium. The Guide was presented to Alexander De Croo, then Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Minister of Digital Agenda, at a ceremony at FEB’s offices in late 2015. 

Currently, the Coalition plays a key role in the Belgian economy in terms of awareness, education and training. It provides a forum for experts, enables exchanges of experience, develops best practices, raises awareness, issues recommendations, and more. 

Which challenges do you currently see for cybersecurity awareness? 

The start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 gave cybercriminals a golden opportunity, which they quickly took advantage: people were more vulnerable using applications they weren’t familiar with, their personal devices were often less secure than their work devices, and multiple members of a family might be using the same computer. As a result, the risks increased for everyone. Now the war in Ukraine is raising new and ever-increasing challenges, with hackers demonstrating even greater imagination and ingenuity. 

With the help of the Coalition, I am currently working at FEB on the development of a practical tool for companies that are victims of such cyberattacks. We want to give them a maximum of useful contacts to enable them to react, to continue their activities as best they can, and to fulfil their legal obligations – even if they are deprived of their computer work tools or the essential data they need for that normal activity.  

We aspire to a digital society in which companies are trained and equipped to respond to the various cyber risks, because companies need expert support. It is through the experience and expertise of members of the Coalition that small and big companies can learn more about cyber risks, the techniques used, and how to counter them.  

Setting up the Coalition wasn’t a one-shot initiative, but part of a long-term approach for cybersecurity in Belgium. Cybersecurity and, in particular, cybercrime are not static phenomena. Information and communication technologies are evolving quickly, and cybercriminals exploit this to create new viruses and malware. This means that we must constantly re-assess our views and strategies, based on these technological developments and our real-life experiences. We have to stay vigilant and roll out the necessary fixes in good time: cybersecurity is, and remains, an ongoing challenge! 

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