Digital espionage, sabotage getting more complex, Dutch intelligence service warns

More and more countries are active in the increasingly complex fields of digital espionage and -sabotage, the Dutch general intelligence and security service AIVD warns in its annual report for 2017. The Netherlands is an interesting target for digital espionage because of its position as an international hub and as a member of the EU, NATO and this year also the UN Security Council, NOS reports.

According to the AIVD, digital espionage has a low threshold, is inexpensive, difficult to trace and has a large potential range. This form of espionage is increasing all over Europe. Common targets are the business world, vital infrastructure and the government. Last year terabytes of confidential data were stolen in digital burglaries at various European multinationals and research institutes in the energy, high-tech and chemical sectors, according to the service. This also includes organizations that have offices in the Netherlands or that cooperate with industries in our country. "Such stubborn digital attacks pose a threat to the economic earning power of the Netherlands", the AIVD said. 

Digital sabotage is also a major concern, especially when it comes to vital infrastructure. If a power plant or communication hub is hit, it can have major consequences for society, according to the AIVD. Other countries are investing in certain systems to make sabotaging infrastructure possible in the future, the service warns. 

Russia is also using digital means to exert political influence in the West, like what happened in the American presidential elections in 2016, the AIVD writes, according to the broadcaster. "In recent years, influencing operations have become an increasingly important part of Russian foreign policy." The AIVD does not give any specific examples of such influence in the Netherlands, but does note that since the downing of flight MH17 the Netherlands' strategic importance has increased for Russia. 

While this annual report consisted largely of digital threats, it is not the only type of threat the AIVD discussed. Terrorism is also still a concern. 

While terrorist organization ISIS lost almost all of its territory last year, the AIVD expects that the organization will survive underground and continue to carry out attacks. This could also mean attacks in the West, as retribution against the international coalition that fought against ISIS. The Netherlands forms part of that coalition. According to the AIVD, pressure is mounting on ISIS supporters in Europe to take action in their own country. The service believes that a few hundred jihadists are active in the Netherlands. 

Last year the AIVD conducted 4,500 security investigations into persons, 30 percent more than in 2016. The service received 3,800 tips and launched 245 preliminary investigations. The AIVD composed 401 information reports, compared to 457 in 2016, and wrote 91 official reports, compared to 152 a year earlier.