Digital espionage

Digital threats. The FD (Financieel Dagblad) of 10 February 2021 contains an important article on the digital threats posed by China and Russia. The article argues for more cooperation on a national level between governments, companies and universities to exchange information. It claims that the crown jewels of the Dutch economy are in danger due to digital espionage practices from the countries mentioned. But the same situation applies to other countries. What is going on ?

Digital order lists. The attached interview with the Dutch security services reveals that China and Russia work with so-called order lists of technology and try to break into Dutch high-tech companies. General Jan Swillens indicates that the press is paying far too little attention to these threats. This despite the fact that almost every day a break-in attempt is made by a foreign power. The security of many companies is seldom capable of coping with the vandalism of “state hackers”. Some companies have already taken drastic measures, but universities are generally very naive and prefer cooperation for example in the field of artificial intelligence, because of the development of technology.

“Dual-use”technology. Hester Somsen, deputy head of security coordinator NCTV (Nationaal Coördinator Terrorismebestrijding en Veiligheid), points out that a lot of modern technology is in fact “dual use”, because it can be used for both defence and civilian purposes. The plea is also to increase the budgets for digital security. A discussion that is also taking place in other European countries.

Chinese ambitions. The conclusion of the article is that the ambitions of countries like China and Russia are completely underestimated. Both countries covet high-quality technology in Western countries. Both to strengthen their digital knowledge and for digital defence purposes. A global digital arms race is taking place. Various tracks are being followed to obtain digital knowledge. Besides digital espionage, investments are made in interesting companies, students are placed at universities, etc. Countries operate on various levels in their attempts to obtain information.

Two fairly recent examples of digital espionage are the following:

1/ In July 2020 American prosecutors indicted two former electrical engineering students who had graduated at the same American university for hacking into hundreds of companies around the world. The two Chinese engineers allegedly hacked on behalf of their government and also for their own gain. In their document the American prosecutors speak of 25 individual organizations.

2/ Reuters Internet News reported on 21 October 2019 that Russian hackers hijacked an Iranian cyber-espionage operation to attack government and industrial organizations while posing as attackers from the Islamic Republic. British and US officials said the Russian group, known as “Turla” and accused by Estonian and Czech authorities of operating on behalf of the Russian security service FSB, used Iranian tools and computer infrastructure to successfully hack into organizations in at least 20 different countries over the past 18 months,

In a report on cyber espionage, ENISA, an agency of the EU, describes a large number of well-documented incidents that have occurred in the last ten years. In addition, the report contains a wealth of recommendations to prevent or combat cyber espionage.

Chinese students send home. On 28 May 2020, newspapers reported the following: “US to send thousands of Chinese students home. The United States plans to revoke the visas of Chinese students who the government believes have ties to the military in China”. This step involved 3000 to 5000 students, American media reported. The Chinese students who lost their visas had to leave the country. The main goal was to prevent espionage and intellectual property theft, which the government claimed some students were guilty of.

National approach does not work. Meanwhile, each European country still pursues its own digital security policy. One country unsuspectingly cooperates with Chinese Universities, the other is cautious. One country uses Huawei equipment, the other does not. Of course, it would be wise if the Netherlands could bring about much better internal cooperation in the triangle of government, companies and universities. But can a relatively small country parry the digital power of big countries such as China and Russia on its own?

European Security Policy. Therefore, if there is one subject that should be at the top of the agenda for a stronger Digital Europe and European Defence, it is the formulation of a joint and independent European Security Policy, which addresses all these aspects.. Without a good security policy, Europe can forget about an independent digital economic course in the world, because it will then remain the plaything of the security strategies of China, Russia and other countries.

European Digital Defence Force. The risk of cyber warfare is not unthinkable, and Europe should build up its own digital defence capabilities in particular now that the US is increasingly.moving away. In terms of digital defence cooperation, a European digital section of NATO could be established to facilitate Member States in the fight against cyber espionage. Even better it would be to establish a European Digital Defence Force within NATO, with the aim of jointly developing a digital defence strategy on a European level.

Soon will be published:“The Fluid Society or The Digital Challenge for Europe”