“NATO has everything to gain with us”: Finland, a cyber champion determined to join the Alliance

Finland is one of the best digital and cyber educated states in Europe. The Nordic country highlights this asset when many powers sign its membership in NATO, like France on August 3. Report in Helsinki, where Numerama went to understand what differentiates Finland from other countries in this area.

Ratifications follow one another for the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO. This August 3, it was the turn of the French Parliament to sign the adhesion of the two States to the alliance. In Helsinki, we do not want to be pitied, on the contrary, the representatives of the Nordic country want to prove to the other members that they will be a power among the others. Finland does indeed have many advantages: compulsory military service, an army of 280,000 reservists and a title of NATO cyber champion. The country actually finished first in a cyber defense exercise where it was only invited.

Every April, the military organization brings all members together to test themselves in a massive cyber warfare simulation, dubbed Locked Shield. The fighters of each country must save fictitious infrastructures subjected to a series of offensives. After three days of intense virtual battles, the Finnish team did the best out of the 33 participants to block the waves of cyber attack.

No wonder, cyber experts will tell you. Finland, like other Nordic countries, is one of those quiet tech powers. The Finns are also in competition with their northern neighbors to be the European leaders in the sector: Finland is the second state with the highest proportion of IT specialistsbehind Sweden, and ranks second in the EU with the Digital Society Index the highest, behind Denmark.

If the Finnish population shares the love of design and comfortable furniture with the Scandinavians, they also enjoy working in cyberspace. Finland is – together with the Netherlands – the country where the population is the best educated digital in Europe. ” We don’t have a global product giant apart from Nokia – which has largely become an OEM – but we have a strong pool of graduates, specialists and tech skills “, tells us Sauli Pahlman, director of the Finnish national cybersecurity center – “the firefighters” of the country in the event of an attack. F-Secure and SSH Communications Security are two historical Finnish companies, having contributed to many developments in cyber.

Strong education in good digital gestures

Finland, like many countries, suffered a sharp increase in cyberattacks, in particular phishing campaigns between 2020 and 2022 at the height of the covid period. Acts of computer hacking have multiplied by eight since 2019 “, recount Sauli Pahlman. ” The difference between Finland and other countries? Better cooperation between the private and public sector. They communicate a lot with us, and vice versa, to improve the cyber environment Across the country. We are also working to prevent and educate the population to protect themselves “, he adds.

In this country of 5.5 million inhabitants, state institutions are used to communicating regularly with the population. In 2021, an application named 112 Suomi was launched to ensure that cyber incidents or scams are quickly reported to authorities. Information spots were broadcast during television news for the elderly, so that they did not fall into the trap of phishing.

5g hackathon finland
The world’s first open 5G cybersecurity hackathon brought together 70 cybersecurity experts from 15 different countries to take on challenges from Ericsson, Nokia and the University of Oulu. The hackathon was organized by the National Cybersecurity Center of Finland // Source: Traficom

A team from Aalto University, one of the best on the continent in the cyber field, has been charged by the European Union since last February to provide a “package” of advice and teaching methods for EU citizens. The project should lead to the launch of a site open to all, to learn the right gestures in terms of computer protection.

Another initiative by members of the private sector: an association made up of around thirty cyber experts, called KyberVPK, has made it its mission to voluntarily help companies and institutions to better defend themselves against cyberattacks. Anu Laitila, member of this organization and cyber specialist, tells us about the genesis of the project. ” In 2020, hospitals suffered information leaks while the country was in the midst of the covid crisis. Along with several friends, we were exasperated that hackers were attacking public institutions at such a difficult time. We met between employees in the cyber field to quickly create this association and bring our expertise. »

KyberVPK is regularly asked by small businesses and schools to obtain some recommendations in order to improve the protection of the computer system. Anu Laitila is also involved in the National Defense Training Association of Finland, a semi-state-run organization responsible for maintaining military training in the country.

” The threat [russe] has always been there”

Thist Technological Eden has never given up on martial education and with a neighbor like Russia, people prefer to be ready in case of armed conflict. The Kremlin has invaded Finland before. Now that Ukraine is once again bearing the brunt of Moscow’s imperialism, the Finns do not rule out the possibility of being next in line.

The threat has always been there. There have been attempts at misinformation, blackmail, to make us believe that it is better to side with Russia in this conflict, but the population is not fooled. When false information was spread, for example, about the lack of food, the Finns went on their own to the supermarket shelves to take photos and prove on social networks that there was no shortage “, tells us Anu Laitila.

Helsinki Finland
Finnish people have the highest level of trust in their media in Europe. Disinformation on social networks has little effect in the country. // Source: Viktor Kovalchuk / Unsplash

All it took was three months of war led by Russia in Ukraine for the country of a thousand lakes, historically neutral, to change its position and present its candidacy for NATO. Joining the Alliance is also obvious to Finnish officials, who never use the conditional on this subject.

When we are members of NATO, we will take full part in the cyber defense of the organization, says Jarmo Sareva, Ambassador for Innovation at the Finnish Foreign Ministry. We have strong expertise in the IT protection of infrastructures. This war gives everyone the opportunity to test their assets and the Alliance has everything to gain by accepting our country. We are also aware of our means, our army would be in a better position if it were integrated into an organization like NATO.. »

Finland has already suffered two denial of service attacks – a multitude of connections will saturate the server – on the sites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense, the day when the Ukrainian president gave a video speech in front of the Finnish deputies. ” Nothing serious, but it’s a political message Jarmo Sareva calmly tells us.

Discussions are ongoing

Finland is certainly capable of blocking a sophisticated hacking operation against infrastructure on its own, however the situation would become more tense if a wave of cyberattacks hit the country. ” Ukraine is defending itself well on the cyber level, but it is drowned under the attacks. At one point, 18 national organizations were simultaneously affected. With our 40 employees at the national cybersecurity center, we could not contain such an offensive “, entrusts Sauli Pahlman. ” Unless we have substantial reinforcements like NATO or a computer army of volunteers, like Ukraine at the moment “, he adds.

For the moment, only Turkey would be reluctant to have Finland and Sweden join NATO for reasons of support for minority organizations considered terrorist by Ankara. The NATO summit over the next three days could help find a compromise between these countries. Both the government and the population are calm and patiently awaiting progress on the subject. In 2022, Finland was ranked the happiest country in the world for the fifth consecutive year, despite covid and a 1,340 km border with Russia. The land of a thousand lakes may have other things to teach us, other than knowing how to protect your computer.

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