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Sweden and Finland weigh the cyber risks associated with NATO applications

Sweden and Finland weigh the cyber risks associated with NATO applications

Authorities in Sweden and Finland have raised awareness of cyberattacks, concerned about the increased risk of burglary due to the war in Ukraine and subsequent applications from the two northern countries to join NATO.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, cybersecurity officials in Sweden and Finland have not noticed an increase in attacks on critical infrastructure, although they say the countries are becoming increasingly interesting targets for hacker groups with Russian ties.

On Wednesday, the two northern countries applied to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, after decades of neutrality. Approval may take several months.

Hackers who have links to Russia may try to trick the process in a variety of ways, said David Lindal, a research engineer at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, which is affiliated with the Swedish Ministry of Defense.

Hackers can spoil Swedish websites and spread misinformation online, Mr Lindal said. Although cyberattacks aimed at the country have not intensified this year compared to previous years, NATO’s statement means “we have changed the situation,” he said.

Hackers briefly hacked Finland’s government websites last month when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the Finnish parliament. Russia has consistently denied involvement in cyberattacks.

Other cybersecurity issues include the possibility of long-term espionage campaigns after countries join NATO, and cyber attacks in retaliation for joining, said Kim Elman, director of the RISE Cybersecurity Center, a Swedish government research institute.

Mika Giponen, chief researcher of the Finnish company WithSecure.


Mike Blake / Reuters

Cyberattacks are likely to increase later, potentially as a form of retaliation against Finnish government decisions and participation as a NATO member, said Mika Gipanen, chief researcher at

WithSecure Corp.

a cybersecurity company based in Finland was formerly called F-Secure.

Hacker groups are “too late for their attacks if they want to change anything concrete” in public opinion about joining NATO, Mr Hipponen said, adding: “I worry about cyberattacks directly through the Russian government or through proxies. The Russian government is targeting Finland and Sweden. ”

Sanctions that prevent Russia from acquiring high-tech equipment make cyber attacks on Sweden and Finland more attractive, Mr Elman said. “Russia will be more dependent on acquiring this knowledge and intellectual property in other ways,” he said. Finland and Sweden are home to high-tech research and development and will be a target for espionage, he added.

The governments of Sweden and Finland have increased preparedness and warned of cyber threats to domestic companies and infrastructure during the war in Ukraine, and cybersecurity agencies in both countries have received more notifications and requests for information from companies and individuals who have asked or wanted to share cybersecurity information. the last few months. Officials attribute this increase to growing public awareness and concern about cyber threats.

“There is a certain tension in the air and there is a tendency to look at things through this lens,” said Johan Turel, a senior cybersecurity analyst at the Swedish Emergency Management Agency. Government agencies in Swedish municipalities have been increasingly concerned about cybersecurity since the start of the war and regularly inquire about cyber defense, such as how to enforce laws requiring critical infrastructure operators to handle cyber incidents, he said.

Finland and Sweden have officially applied for NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. Analysts say their membership will significantly increase the bloc’s military capabilities on land, at sea and in the air. Illustration: Laura Kamerman

Finland’s cybersecurity agency, the National Cybersecurity Center, assesses cyber threats outside the country more systematically than before the war, when it focused primarily on domestic threats, said Deputy Director General Sauli Palman. Analysts have studied recent cyberattacks in Ukraine to learn how to defend against them, and have strengthened ties with critical infrastructure operators, he said.

In April, Ukrainian authorities said so prevent an attack on an energy company. Before and after the Russian invasion, hackers used destructive malware to clean up Ukrainian facilities, including a financial firm and government suppliers. The websites of state ministries and companies were also damaged.

Mr Palman said his agency was preparing to defend against cyberattacks similar to those targeted at Ukrainian companies in recent months: “Finland as a society should be able to use this information and prepare for something like this to happen and here.

In March, Finland launched a monthly assessment involving six government ministries and the prime minister’s office, which aims to review how the country addresses cybersecurity issues and responds to cyber attacks. The effort was planned before the Russian invasion, but officials involved said the war had helped them focus on specific threats.

“The situation in Ukraine has changed our minds and made our discussions perhaps more intense,” said Mika Soykeli, director of the IT department’s defense management and one of the heads of the cybersecurity review.

The review is also led by Petri Knape, director of the national security department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. “At this stage, we are ready for almost all dangers,” he said.

More from WSJ Pro Cybersecurity

Write Catherine Stup on Catherine.Stupp@wsj.com

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