A third of Germany's small, medium-sized firms have been spied on

FILE PHOTO: An investigator of the Cybercrime Intelligence Unit of Germany's Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) Federal Crime Office is pictured during a media day in Wiesbaden, Germany, July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - One third of Germany’s small- and medium-sized companies have been spied on by foreign states, competitors or employees, a team of experts including Germany’s Federal Crime Office(BKA) said on Thursday.

German officials and executives are worried about industrial espionage in Europe’s largest manufacturing nation. Cyber experts warn that Germany - with technology expertise - is a particularly attractive target for cyber attackers, including state actors.

German prosecutors are pressing criminal charges against a former employee of chemicals maker Lanxess for allegedly stealing trade secrets to set up a Chinese copycat chemical reactor.

It was not only global players being hit by espionage, according to experts at the BKA, research institutes, Baden-Wuerttemberg’s state office of criminal investigation and a police school.

“The results of our surveys show that no company can feel safe,” said Esther Bollhoefer of the Frauenhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research. “It can affect all sectors and companies of all sizes.”

A fifth of companies have not developed any strategies to detect or prevent attacks and would not be prepared for them, they found.

Small and medium-sized companies, which provide most of the jobs in Germany and form the backbone of the economy, “develop valuable and sought-after expertise which arouses the interest of competitors or other countries,” they said.

“The threat comes from the inside, such as from unsatisfied employees or former employees, as well as from outside such as via cyber espionage,” the experts said.

Reporting by Michelle Martin, editing by Larry King