The NIS Directive – short for ‘Directive on Security of Network and Information Systems’ – was created to protect European organizations against cyber threats. Let’s take a look at the implications of this new directive and how it will affect Belgian organizations in particular.

According to a 2019 report from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, cybercrime costs an estimated $600 billion a year, which is a significant increase compared to the 2014 figure of $445 billion. Consequently, it’s no surprise that 37% of companies feel that cyber incidents are one the number one business risks today.

But it’s not just regular companies that might get affected by cybercrime. Critical infrastructure systems like power plants, water supply services, financial institutions and military installations are equally threatened. These days, the storyline of Die Hard with a Vengeance – starring Bruce Willis as John McClane –, where bad guys hack their way into power plants, public utilities and traffic systems, doesn’t seem that far-fetched anymore.

How the EU tackles this issue

The European Commission understands all too well that our society and economy heavily relies on ICT and that it’s therefore vital for critical infrastructure systems, digital service providers, as well as other companies to be well protected against cyber threats.

This extract – taken from the actual NIS Directive – clearly expresses the EU’s point of view: “The magnitude, frequency and impact of security incidents are increasing, and represent a major threat to the functioning of network- and information systems. Those systems may also become a target for deliberate harmful actions intended to damage or interrupt the operation of the systems. Such incidents can impede the pursuit of economic activities, generate substantial financial losses, undermine user confidence and cause major damage to the economy of the Union.”

The NIS Directive is an important initiative – actually the first of its kind in Europe – to ensure that protection against cyber threats is properly addressed. It was commissioned by the European Commission and created by the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA).

As the EU consists of different countries with different cultures and values, the European Commission didn’t want to impose a single, overarching cyber security standard onto its members. Therefore, every EU-member is enabled to ‘transpose’ the directive – within certain limits, of course – into its own legislation.

The NIS Directive dissected

The main goal of the NIS Directive is to improve the cybersecurity level within the European Union. According to ENISA, the directive consists of three components:

1-Improving cybersecurity capabilities at national level

EU-members need to develop strategic objectives, priorities and a governance framework in order to secure their network and information systems. Each member has to designate one or more national competent authorities to monitor the application of the directive. They also need to designate one or more Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs). The duties of those CSIRTs – amongst others – is to monitor cybersecurity incidents and provide early warnings.

2-Enhance cross-border collaboration with other EU-members

This collaboration will be put into practice by the NIS Cooperation Group and the Network of National CSIRTs. The NIS Cooperation Group will share best practices, provide guidance assistance to member states, set-up training programs, and so on. The National CSIRTs Network will issue guidelines on operational cooperation and exchange information on CSIRT services and operations.

3-Make sure that operators of essential services (OESs) and digital service providers (DSPs) are supervised on a national level

The NIS Directive states that EU-members need to supervise the cybersecurity of OESs, such as energy (electricity, oil and gas), transport (air, rail, water and road), drinking water supply and distribution, healthcare, banking and credit institutions, financial market infrastructure (trading venues, central counter parties) and digital infrastructure (internet exchange points, domain name system service providers, top level domain name registries).

According to the directive, digital service providers (DSPs) are online marketplaces, cloud computing services and search engines. In short, the directive requires that DSPs take appropriate security measures and notify substantial incidents to the authorities.

Belgium: Better late than never?

The NIS Directive went into effect in August 2016 and the EU’s member states were given a timeframe of 21 months to incorporate the directive into their own, national law. The deadline for this was set at 9 May 2018. Belgium didn’t meet the deadline and a few months later, the European Commission started infringement proceedings against Belgium. In March 2019, the Commission even threatened to take Belgium to court, and set the final deadline on 7 May 2019. Luckily, Belgium has met the deadline, as the senate accepted the bill which transposes the NIS Directive into Belgian law in March 2019. Finally, the law became effective four days before the ultimate deadline.

Implications for Belgian companies and organizations

Similar to the situation in other countries, the law imposes a number of information security obligations on many organizations and companies that are active in Belgium. The nature of those obligations depends on the activities of your organization or business.

When your company or organization – or a branch thereof – (1) is situated in Belgium, (2) relies on network and information systems and (3) is active in one of the following essential services: energy, transport, drinking water, healthcare, financial market infrastructure and digital infrastructure, you might be impacted by the NIS Directive.

However, this will only happen if you offer services which are essential for maintaining social and/or economic activities within the country and if significant disruptive effects would occur in case of a cyber incident. Even if your organization fully complies with the above, it will only be considered as an operator of essential services (OES) when the competent authority appoints your organization as such.

When your organization offers digital services, you also have to comply to the NIS Directive, but in this case, it’s not necessary to be designated by the authorities as such. When your organization is a digital marketplace, a search engine or a cloud service, the NIS Directive is applied.

What has to be done?

The main goal of the NIS Directive is for companies to meet certain international security standards. For many companies however, it is still very unclear as to what they actually have to do. A lot of businesses aren’t sure what standards and guidelines they have to follow. To help with this issue, ENISA created a guide that describes the different frameworks that can be used for every sector.

Apart from that, it’s good to know that the NIS Directive in Belgium states that the security policy of organizations that are subject to NIS needs to be in accordance with ISO 27001. This doesn’t mean those organizations need to have an ISO 27001 certification, however. What it does mean, is that the government will demand for audits that are based on the rules as described in ISO 27001.

PS: Don’t forget to take a look at Elimity Insights, a powerful identity intelligence solution which enables you to stay secure and compliant with regulations like NIS.

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