The Netherlands’ spy service broke into the computers used by a powerful Russian hacking group and might be sitting on evidence related to the breach of the US Democratic National Committee, a Dutch newspaper and TV show jointly reported on Friday.
Reports carried in the respected de Volkskrant daily and by current affairs TV show Nieuwsuur said hackers working for the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service penetrated the computers used by the group, often nicknamed Cozy Bear, in mid-2014 and watched them for at least a year, even managing to catch the hackers on camera.
Dutch Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Kajsa Ollongren, interviewed by reporters in The Hague before the government’s weekly Cabinet meeting, declined to address the report, saying only that she was “very happy that we have good security services in the Netherlands that do their work well.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that he had yet to see any official comment from the Dutch intelligence service on the matter.
“If the Dutch media want to fuel anti-Russian hysteria in the US, it’s an activity that can’t be called honorable,” he said.
De Volkskrant and Nieuwsuur said that the Dutch spies used their access to help oust Cozy Bear from US Department of State computers in late 2014.
De Volkskrant said US spies were so grateful they sent the Dutch cake and flowers.
Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael researcher Ko Colijn said the report might indicate a leveling trend in which small, but tech-savvy countries like the Netherlands “can compensate their military inferiority with cyberquality surpluses.”
The news drew particular attention in Washington, where Cozy Bear has been identified as one of two Russian government-linked hacking groups that broke in to the committee ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The other group is usually called Fancy Bear.
Unmasking Cozy Bear hackers would provide key evidence for investigators trying to unravel the committee breach, but it might not dispel the mystery surrounding the leaks that followed.
An Associated Press investigation found that all but one of the two dozen or so officials whose e-mails were published in the run-up to the 2016 election were targeted by Fancy Bear, which cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike said operated independently from Cozy Bear.
The Kremlin has denied meddling in the US presidential vote.
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