Mastercard reveals record levels of cybercrime in Belgium during the pandemic

January 31, 2022
Mastercard data showed that Belgium suffered up to three times more cyber-attacks than before the Covid-19 crisis.
Healthcare, retail, and public administration are among the most vulnerable sectors, however Belgian banks exceeded the global average for cybersecurity.


Waterloo, January 27, 2022 – Mastercard has today revealed that Belgium has suffered record levels of cybercrime during the pandemic – with up to three times more cyberattacks taking place since early 2020 – in an analysis of the country’s preparedness against cyber risks. The overview highlighted vulnerability throughout Belgian business in light of the digital acceleration that has become a hallmark of the pandemic.

Cybercriminals continue to target businesses

Generating global damages of €5,4 trillion every year, cybercrime is proliferating throughout the business world. With larger ransom potential, criminals are increasingly targeting businesses over individuals and putting organisations at risk.

In 2021, almost 1,000 Belgian businesses suffered cyberattacks. The most popular form of attack was malware (28.8% attacks), followed by ransomware (26.4%) and social engineering (19.7%), and the motivation behind the majority of attacks was to obtain information (69%) over money itself (16.2%). The value in stolen data is two-fold: financial and political. Once data is obtained, hackers can either sell it for a high price (71.1%) or leverage it to destabilise a government or other authority (28%).      

“Cyberattacks can have devastating implications for businesses – notably SMEs – and can often force them to close their doors. Yet – while they are regularly targeted by hackers – 50% of businesses are not prepared to deal with attacks,” comments Rigo Van den Broeck, Executive Vice President & Cyber Security Product Innovation at Mastercard. “The security of these businesses is critical to the survival of our global digital ecosystem. The risk they face is also our risk. It is therefore our shared responsibility to ensure that they have access to effective tools to protect themselves from the risk of attack.”

Pandemic brings increased risk for healthcare and retail

Mastercard’s analysis revealed that Belgian government (24% attacks) and financial institutions (21%) were the priority targets for cybercriminals in 2021. Both sectors suffered an average of 50 to 70 cyberattacks per quarter. The next highest was IT and multimedia (12%).

It was the retail and healthcare sectors, however, that produced the most striking figures. Healthcare, which peaked at one point with more than 30 incursions per quarter, has now receded back to its pre-pandemic level of attacks (8%). The retail sector was also hit hard, suffering three times the number of attacks last year compared to the pre-crisis period (6.6%).

Belgian banks more secure than global average

As part of its analysis, Mastercard deployed its Riskrecon data analytics tool to generate a cyber vulnerability score for Belgium’s different business sectors. The score – generated using a multitude of factors – ranges from 0 to 10, with 0 being the most vulnerable and 10 being the safest. 

In Belgium, the public administration, healthcare, and retail and food services sectors were revealed as the most vulnerable in terms of cyber security, all scoring close to 7. The scores of the banking sector and the insurance world are the highest (8.43), followed by those of the entertainment industry and agriculture (both set at 8.3).

“Trust in the security of their data is the basis for the services of banking institutions”, explains Henri Dewaerheijd, Country Manager Mastercard Belux. “It is therefore essential for this sector to be robust against attacks. It is a highly regulated sector and has invested heavily in infrastructure and artificial intelligence tools to optimise its protection. In fact, we can be proud of the fact that Belgian banks received a security score of 8.43, which is much higher than the global average of 8.13 and the European average of 7.98.”

Fostering a pan-European approach to cyber resilience

Mastercard has established itself as an expert in cybercrime across Europe and prides itself on its collaborative approach to combatting cyber risk.

In December 2021, Mastercard Europe and Europol signed a partnership to collaborate on aligning counter cybercrime objectives across the region. The collaborative agreement will enable the two organisations to share insights, identify key activities, and increase cyber resilience across Europe. This built on the launch of the Mastercard Cyber Resilience Centre – based in Waterloo, Belgium – that was launched in 2020 to enable better pan-European collaboration between regulators and companies within the private and public sectors.

Cyber resilience collaboration is designed to provide support to those who need it most and ensure businesses of all sizes can prepare for potential attacks. “Our analysis shows that there is clear room for improvement in Belgium when it comes to cyber defence. There is no reason to panic, however, because accessible, affordable solutions exist for SMEs and merchants,” continues Rigo Van den Broeck, cyber security expert at Mastercard.

Four tips to ensure good cyber hygiene for your business

In response to the findings of its analysis, Mastercard has produced the following four tips designed to help businesses improve their preparedness against cyber threats. 

  1. Identify where your business is vulnerable. To do this, you can use Mastercard's Riskrecon data analytics platform to evaluate the security of your infrastructure and cyber system. For a demo request and practical tips, please visit
  2. Ensure good cyber hygiene throughout your organisation. This can be achieved through a triangular analysis of your staff, the technologies used and the habits of your company. For example, it is important to remind employees to use a different password in their business and private email addresses and to regularly remind them to be vigilant against phishing. In terms of technology, it is necessary to have an anti-virus software installed on each computer, to be careful about installing software available for free on the web and to not trust Wi-Fi networks in public spaces. Finally, as far as procedures are concerned, frequent system updates and data back-ups are productive measures that can be taken.
  3. Properly identify the people with whom you interact digitally. Over half of data breaches within companies occur through third parties. It is therefore important to be well informed about the suppliers with whom the company works.
  4. Detect the risks. Risk detection requires the use of artificial intelligence solutions, which can often be provided by banks. In Belgium, all Mastercard and Maestro transactions are evaluated with a score – generated by artificial intelligence – and your bank will notify you if any suspicious activity is identified.



Media Contacts

Amandine Servotte, Mastercard