Dutch intelligence warns of escalating Russian, Chinese cyberattacks in the Netherlands

An aerial view of the Hague, in the Netherlands (Wikicommons).

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Russia and China have intensified their offensive cyber-espionage efforts in the Netherlands, the Dutch domestic intelligence service (AIVD) announced this week in its annual report of 2018.

While Chinese cyber spies have sought to steal intellectual property from Dutch targets, the AIVD noted, Russian hackers and propagandists have worked for years to advance the Kremlin’s geopolitical interests by harassing watchdog and government agencies in the Netherlands. These efforts come amid broader foreign influence and offensive cyber campaigns from Russia, China, and Iran that also target the U.S., which the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said are increasing.

Russia has focused on everything from spreading disinformation on the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 — just as Dutch-led investigators pinpointed the attack on Russia — to attempting to hack into the chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2018, as Russia was under fire for a chemical weapons attack in England.

The Dutch intelligence service assesses that the Netherlands has had a bullseye on its back since it held Russia responsible for the 2014 downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight. The Dutch also claimed they disrupted Russian attempts in 2018 to hack into the OPCW, for instance and have reportedly gotten involved in stopping Russian meddling in U.S. politics in 2016. In 2016 the Dutch alerted U.S. intelligence to Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections via the Democratic National Committee, according to local outlet de Volkskrant.

Last year, the Dutch have worked to cripple Russian cyber-espionage in the Netherlands. Officials stopped using antivirus software from Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs in 2018 over security concerns it was operating at the behest of the Russian government, which Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said had an “offensive cyber programme that targets among others the Netherlands and Dutch interests.” Kaspersky, which is also banned for use in U.S. federal agencies, has repeatedly denied cooperation with Russian intelligence.

But Russia also poses a more destructive threat to the Netherlands, per the AIVD. The Dutch assess that its critical infrastructures or its energy supply face possible disruption or damage at the hands of the Kremlin, although they assess there is “no intention” to actually sabotage critical infrastructure at this time.

The AIVD also assesses that Iranian and North Korean hackers are likewise capable of launching these kind of destructive attacks in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the Dutch are also facing an onslaught of Chinese digital economic espionage, which seeks to undermine Dutch companies’ earning potential, the Dutch intelligence service alleges. These espionage efforts have included targeting companies in the technology, energy, and health industries to try gaining a leg up on global competition as China advances its One Belt, One Road development project, AIVD says. Of the cyberthreats the Netherlands says it has seen an uptick in from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and Syria, cyberattacks from China constitute the largest economic espionage threat.

Even outside of Europe, the Dutch are facing increasing offensive cyberthreats. For example, the AIVD notes that Dutch diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Asia are targets of cyberattacks from one foreign intelligence service, which the AIVD does not identify.

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AIVD, Netherlands, Russia
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