Finnish and Swedish NATO moves raise fears of Russian cyberattacks

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

Although it is too early to judge how Russia might try to use its cyber capabilities against Finland, Sweden or other NATO members, including the United States, experts said it would launch probably unsophisticated, small-scale cyberattacks as a form of protest against expansion.

Such attacks would not have the severity of cyber efforts launched by Moscow against Ukraine amid the Russian invasion of that country.

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

Blessing said that since Russia has no intention, at least for now, of invading Finland or Sweden, it could use different cyber tactics than it used with Ukraine to get his 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 enemy networks rather than unleash full-scale cyber warfare. .

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

Russia is unhappy with the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO and earlier this week pledged to take ‘retaliatory measures’ if Finland considered joining the military organization of the 30 nations.

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

The fact that Finland is now considering NATO membership is also an illustration of how Moscow’s war has gone wrong.

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

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is also due to meet the foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland and NATO members in Berlin on Saturday, where officials are expected to map out the roadmap for the countries to join the alliance. .

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

Potential additions to NATO would be significant as the two countries have long avoided 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 over 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 cut its electricity imports to Finland from Saturday.

Finnish politicians have also warned that Moscow could quickly cut gas to the country, Reuters reported, citing local media. The Kremlin employed 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 happened while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was addressing the Finnish parliament.

Josephine Wolff, associate professor of cybersecurity policy at Tufts University Fletcher School, said the attack was “a relatively unimpressive, small-scale cyberattack that required no great technological expertise and only resulted in short-term disruption. term”.

“If this kind of [attack] is the extent of cyber capabilities that Russia currently has, so I think it is unlikely that it will be 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.

Experts added that Finland and Sweden have much more robust cyber capabilities than Ukraine and would be better placed to defend against Russian cyberattacks.

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

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

Still, the United States and other NATO member countries can help the two Nordic countries if they determine they need help in cyberspace. Blessing said it wouldn’t surprise him if the US sent one of its “forward hunting” teams with US Cyber ​​Command to help Finland and Sweden like it had with Ukraine before. the invasion.

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

“I think it’s unlikely that assisting Finland and Norway would expose the United States – or any other NATO country – to much greater cyberattacks than the assistance already provided to Ukraine,” Wolff said.

For the time being, it is a matter of ensuring that each of the 30 member state governments ratifies Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO, a precondition for the enlargement of the alliance.

This can be tricky, however, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressing his opposition to the expansion of the organization on Friday.

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