Netherlands "naive" as cyber attacks from Russia, China hit record levels

The Netherlands was the target of a record number of cyber attacks last year, according to general intelligence service AIVD's annual report. Most of these attacks came from Russia and China.

Government agencies were a popular target for these cyber-espionage attacks. Last week the military intelligence service MIVD already revealed that the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs face attacks on a weekly basis.

In addition to the government, major Dutch companies also face regular cyber attacks. According to the AIVD, the attackers tend to focus on companies in the chemical and technology sectors, but companies in energy, water and health facilities are also popular targets. The intelligence service writes that the attacks on these sectors shows that the perpetrators are focused on "innovative-initiatives" in the Netherlands and know exactly where to find them. "This is illustrative of the structural digital espionage threat to which we are exposed and which undermines the Dutch knowledge economy."

According to the AIVD, the Netherlands is "naive" when it comes to online security. One of the problems is that Dutch companies tend to focus on repelling attacks, instead of examining their own systems. This meas that attackers can be present in a company's systems for long periods without being noticed.

The most popular forms of cyber attacks are "spear phishing" - n which an email containing malware is directed at a specific person - and "watering holes" - in which people are lured to websites that infect their computers with malware.

Russia and China are not only dangerous to the Netherlands through cyber attacks, but also in person. According to the AIVD, both countries have physical spies hunting for political, technological and scientific information.

Russia has spies in active in the Netherlands on a "permanent basis" and they are "extremely professional", according to the intelligence service. In 2014 the AIVD deported a Russian spy who was researching quantum physics and nano photonics at the Eindhoven University of Technology.

China focuses primarily on economic intelligence, including following promising people in the financial world and sometimes trying to recruit them. According to the AIVD, Asian country also encourages Chinese companies to take over Dutch companies to expand China's influence in the Netherlands.

The AIVD is also keeping an eye on cyber attacks committed by terrorist organization Islamic State. According to the service, ISIS' cyber attacks were "professionally executed" last year, especially compared to the "relatively simple" attacks from 2014. "There seems to be a central body that controls hacker groups" within the terrorist organization.