Finland is beefing up its defences amid the heightened risk of cyberattacks, disinformation and espionage from Moscow.
There is a general sense of unease among Finnish security agencies, government departments and Helsinki residents about the Kremlin’s next steps after its invasion of Ukraine – and what that will mean for this small Nordic country of 5.5 million on Russia’s western flank.
The communications office of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service (Supo) told The Globe and Mail that Russia’s aggression has only heightened the risk of attacks against Finland’s critical infrastructure, even with Moscow’s resources currently focused on its own country and the war.
That intelligence builds on a 2021 report from the agency, which said that state-sponsored cyberespionage was one of its largest digital threats, adding that the country was “a target of continual attempts at cyberespionage, with no prospect of such operations subsiding, even in the long term.”
Indeed, e-mail accounts belonging to some Finnish lawmakers were compromised during a cyberattack on parliament last year. Supo later attributed those attacks to APT31, a hacking group linked to China.
Combating state-sponsored cyberespionage aimed at civilian society is one of Supo’s main responsibilities. And the security agency says that Finnish authorities and the business community – including telecom operators, internet service providers and universities – are already preparing for potential threats and sharing information.
“The security order in Europe and Finland has changed in an essential manner due to the Russian attack [against Ukraine]. The change will affect Finland’s national security now and in the long-term,” Supo told The Globe.
While preventing civilian cyberattacks falls to Supo, defusing similar threats toward the military is in the defence forces’ bailiwick. And, at the start of the month, the Ministry of Defence began a new program to strengthen national cybersecurity.
The idea is to scrutinize the international threat environment and prepare a plan for Finland’s next steps, building on a broader cybersecurity strategy that the country released in 2019.
Mikko Soikkeli, a spokesperson with the ministry’s information management unit, told The Globe that the war in Europe has only heightened concerns about cyberattacks.
“In general, I feel everyone involved in cybersecurity is constantly slightly worried due to the tense situation,” he said.
Mr. Soikkeli wouldn’t say whether Finland has experienced any large-scale, targeted attacks in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But he said that the ministry continues to exchange information internally and with its international allies, adding that “it is important to make sure that our preparedness is in order.”
Then there is Russia’s interest in whether Finland will ask to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
That debate has always been “one of the principal fields of interest” for Russian intelligence in Finland, Supo says, but it’s only likely to intensify in the near future.
Finland is set to review its security policy to decide whether to join NATO, Finland President Sauli Niinisto said last week. Russia has said that any Finnish move to join the alliance would be seen as a provocation, and would trigger “serious military-political consequences.”
Many Finns have traditionally been wary of Russia, with which their country shares a 1,340-kilometre border and a history of two wars between 1939 and 1944, which cost Finland substantial territory. In the postwar period, Finland pursued pragmatic political and economic ties with Moscow, remaining militarily non-aligned and positioning itself as a neutral buffer between East and West.
But public backing for joining NATO, traditionally around only 20 per cent, has grown over the past month.
“When alternatives and risks have been analyzed, then it’s time for conclusions,” Mr. Niinisto told reporters, referring to the possibility of Finland joining the Western defence alliance.
The increasing vigilance against cyberattacks is occurring as Finland increases its military machinery, guided by a 2021 plan to expand its ground-based air defence.
In December, the country inked an €8.4-billion ($11.7-billion) deal with Lockheed Martin to buy 64 new fighter jets. It’s also in negotiations with two Israeli companies to purchase a system of surface-to-air missiles and is procuring ammunition for a heavy-rocket-launcher system from the United States, according to the defence ministry.
Last week, Finland’s Minister of Defence, Antti Kaikkonen, stopped by Lockheed Martin’s factory in Fort Worth, Texas, while on a visit to the U.S. Mr. Kaikkonen also met with Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and members of Congress to talk about bilateral defence relations, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the security situation in Europe.
They also discussed how to “deepen new areas of co-operation to include space and irregular warfare” and underscored the importance of transatlantic unity, according to a readout of the meeting.
Late last month, Finland said it would send weapons, bulletproof vests, helmets and rations to Ukraine, after Kyiv asked the European Union and NATO member states for military aid in the face of Russia’s invasion.
With a report from Reuters
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