Finnish and Swedish moves into NATO raise fears of Russian cyberattacks

Finland and Sweden’s decision to join NATO has raised concerns about possible cyber retaliation from Russia, which sees the alliance’s expansion as a direct threat.

While it is too early to judge how Russia might attempt to use its cyber capabilities against Finland, Sweden, or other NATO members, including the US.

Such attacks would not have the gravity of the cyber efforts Moscow launched against Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion of that country.

“I think Russia is unlikely to launch the kinds of cyberattacks against Finland and Sweden as it did against Ukraine, mainly because the targets are different,” said Jason Blessing, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Blessing said that since Russia has no intention, at least for the time being, of invading Finland or Sweden, it may use different cyber tactics than it used with Ukraine to get its message across.

He added that Russia is likely to launch unsophisticated types of attacks, including website defacement and distributed denial-of-service attacks to disrupt its enemies’ networks rather than launch a full-scale cyber war.

“[Attacks] which essentially represent a protest against their requested NATO membership,” Blessing said.

Russia is unhappy with the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO and earlier this week vowed to take “retaliatory measures” if Finland goes ahead with plans to join the 30-nation military organization.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sees NATO expansion as a direct threat. Ukraine’s talk of joining NATO was part of Moscow’s justification for its invasion.

The fact that Finland is now considering joining NATO is also an illustration of how badly Moscow’s war has failed.

The United States has expressed support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO, and President Biden spoke with the leaders of both Nordic countries on Friday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also meet the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers and NATO members in Berlin on Saturday, where officials are likely to draw up the roadmap for the countries to join. The alliance.

The process is likely to move much faster than previous deals in the alliance, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg saying last month that both nations would be welcome in the organization if they decided to join and could quickly become members. .

Possible additions to NATO would be significant as both countries have long eschewed military alliances and sought neutrality.

Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, last fought the Kremlin in 1944, when it was the Soviet Union. And Sweden has not had a military alliance for more than 200 years, choosing instead to cooperate with NATO.

The prospect of retaliation is a real concern for Finland and Sweden.

On Friday, a Finnish transmission system operator announced that a Russian energy company would suspend its imports of electricity to Finland from Saturday.

Finnish politicians have also warned that Moscow could quickly cut off gas to the country, Reuters reported, citing local media. The Kremlin used such tactics in Poland and Bulgaria last month in response to Western sanctions.

In April, Finland was hit by a denial-of-service attack that temporarily shut down the websites of the country’s foreign and defense ministries. The attack occurred while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was addressing the Finnish parliament.

Josephine Wolff, an associate professor of cybersecurity policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, said the attack was “a relatively unimpressive, small-scale cyberattack that did not require a great deal of technological expertise and only resulted in a disruption to short term”.

“If that kind of [attack] is the extent of the cyber capabilities that Russia has at hand right now, then I think they are unlikely to be very successful in using cyber attacks to retaliate against Finland and Sweden.”

Blessing also said that since Russia is already busy fighting Ukraine, it may not have the bandwidth right now to carry out destructive cyberattacks against the two Scandinavian countries and NATO members.

The experts added that both Finland and Sweden have much stronger cyber capabilities than Ukraine and would be in a better position to defend against Russian cyber attacks.

In fact, Finland recently won a NATO cyber defense competition this year. The annual war game, held in Estonia, provides technical training to cyber teams from NATO members and allies. Teams compete against each other in a simulation intended to help them understand how to best defend their networks against cyber attacks.

“That’s a very good indication that they have the talent and the ability,” Blessing said.

Still, the US and other NATO member countries can help the two Nordic countries if they determine they need assistance in cyberspace. Blessing said he wouldn’t be surprised if the US sends one of its “forward fighter” teams with US Cyber ​​Command to help Finland and Sweden like it did Ukraine before the invasion.

Wolff added that it is possible, but highly unlikely, that such assistance from the US and other NATO countries could prompt Russia to launch destructive cyberattacks against those countries.

“I think helping Finland and Norway is unlikely to expose the United States, or any other NATO country, to much more significant cyberattacks than helping Ukraine has already had,” Wolff said.

For now, the issue at hand is getting each of the governments of the 30 member states to ratify Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO, a requirement for the alliance’s expansion.

That may prove tricky, however, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed his opposition to the organization’s expansion on Friday.

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