No diplomatic response after attacks on transport sector

The government is not taking any diplomatic or legal action in response to the ransomware attacks on the Dutch transport and logistics sector. The attacks are most likely committed with a criminal motive. It is also difficult to identify the culprit with certainty.

That writes Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra in a letter to the House of Representatives.

European countries target of series of cyber attacks

At the end of January and the beginning of February of this year, several ransomware attacks took place in the Dutch and European transport and logistics sector. In a week, 17 storage depots of petroleum, gas and other chemical products in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany were hit by digital attacks. Port cities and storage depots such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Terneuzen, Antwerp and Ghent were the targets of hackers.

Loading and unloading was delayed due to the cyber attacks. In order not to endanger the oil supply, the German branch of Shell was forced to temporarily divert the oil supply. According to a spokesman for the storage terminals of Evos, the supply of petroleum and other fuels was not at issue.

Swissport was also hit by hackers. The attackers shut down part of the international IT infrastructure. The Swiss aviation service provider was able to continue to offer its ground services, but travellers on international flights were affected by delays. Broshuis, a Dutch company specializing in special and container transport, was also the target of a ransomware attack.

No coordinated attack

All in all, cyberattacks caused a lot of headaches. Not only at the companies themselves, but also in political The Hague. During the ‘International Cyber ​​Security’ Commission debate, which took place on Wednesday 13 April, Sjoerd Sjoerdsma (D66) asked critical questions about the attacks. He wanted to know from Minister Hoekstra (Foreign Affairs) whether the attacks could be traced back to Russia. He also inquired about the diplomatic or legal response the Netherlands has given to the attacks.

Minister Hoekstra has answered Sjoerdsma’s questions in writing. He refers to the response of the National Cyber ​​Security Center (NCSC) to the events. The agency cannot determine with certainty that there was a coordinated attack. “The attacks were probably committed with a criminal motive,” the minister wrote.

Thus, according to Hoekstra, there was an “insufficient basis” for a diplomatic or legal response. “Factors that play a role in decision-making about this include the impact and nature of the attack and the degree of certainty with which the perpetrator of the attack can be identified,” he writes.

‘The situation could be different tomorrow’

The Minister of Foreign Affairs also discusses the possible cyber threat against the Netherlands as a result of the war in Ukraine. Minister Hoekstra emphasizes that the NCSC has been closely monitoring cybersecurity-related developments since the start of the Russian invasion. “At the moment there are no concrete indications that targeted digital attacks have taken place on the Netherlands,” said the minister.

In doing so, the minister is repeating the position that the NCSC provided at the end of March. According to the NCSC, no major, advanced cyber-attacks have occurred to date that have an impact on the Dutch infrastructure. That does not mean that these can still be implemented in the near future. “The situation may be different tomorrow; we do not rule out attacks and their possible consequences on the Netherlands,” the NCSC warned.

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