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Intelligence agencies say say malware planted by cyber spies detected last year

The Dutch company ASML, the world’s dominant supplier of high-end lithography machines used to make computer chips, is said to be a prime target of Chinese espionage efforts. (Photo: Reuters)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Chinese state-backed cyber spies hacked into an internal computer network at the Dutch Ministry of Defence last year, intelligence agencies in the Netherlands said in a rare report published on Tuesday.

The agencies, known by their Dutch acronyms MIVD and AIVD, said the hackers had placed sophisticated malicious software, or malware, that cloaked their activity inside a ministry network.

“China uses this type of malware to conduct espionage against computer networks. The malware has been developed specifically for FortiGate devices, which are used by organisations as a firewall to protect their systems. The manufacturer Fortinet supplies this product worldwide,” they agencies said in a joint statement.

It is the first time the Netherlands has publicly attributed cyber espionage activity to China, as tensions surrounding national security grow between Beijing and The Hague.

China’s embassy to the Netherlands did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Beijing routinely denies allegations of cyber espionage and says it opposes all forms of cyberattack.

A Fortinet spokesperson also did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Last April, AIVD said in an annual assessment that China posed the greatest threat to the economic security of the Netherlands, with ongoing espionage attempts targeting high-end technology companies and universities.

A prime target is the semiconductor equipment maker ASML, based in the southern Dutch city of Veldhoven, which is the world’s dominant supplier of lithography machines used to make computer chips.

In a separate report, also last April, the MIVD said that China was illegally attempting to acquire Dutch space technology, including by circumventing export restrictions.


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