Supo: Finland faces more aggressive cyber threats from Russia and China

Foreign intelligence services are interested in policy discussions, sensitive security information and EU sanctions among other areas.

Supo's 70th anniversary logo / Credit: Supo

Finland is facing an increasingly robust cyber security threat; tracking returning IS militants; and dealing with a high number of foreign spies operating on Finnish soil, especially from Russia and China.

Those are the main conclusions from the Finnish Security Intelligence Service Supo, which released its annual review on Thursday. This year marks Supo’s 70th anniversary, so their annual review was more extensive than previous years.

“The world of cyber espionage has become more aggressive, now even including forcible intrusions in systems” says Jyrki Kaipanen, Supo‘s Head of Cyber.

The new report finds that foreign intelligence activities are focused on finding out more about Finnish policy discussions and influence around NATO membership; foreign and security policy strategies; as well as Finnish positions on EU sanctions; and the security situation in the Baltic Sea region.

Supo also finds that particular points of interest for foreign intelligence services during 2018 were Finland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the preparations of new intelligence legislation and international military cooperation.

The report claims there are a large number of foreign spies operating in Finland, particularly from Russia and China. These might be intelligence operatives based at the respective embassies, or they could be undeclared foreign nationals living and working in the country, or who visit from time to time.

The nature of the cyber threats facing Finland have changed recently as well. The 2018 Supo review says that the focus from foreign powers is no longer necessarily to target top level organisations like ministries or the military. Instead, they could go after less security-conscious organisations or individuals closely associated with the top level targets instead.

“Entities close to the target may be used either directly in information gathering or as a channel of access to the systems of the actual target” the report finds.

New legislation brings enhanced Supo role

In the future, Supo’s role in providing intelligence information to the country’s leaders will increase, as new legislation approved by parliament this term comes into force.

“The last few years have been an era of rapid change for Supo and the new legislation will transform the agency into a genuinely modern security and intelligence service” says Supo Director Antti Pelttari.

“The past few years have seen an increased threat of terrorism, while developments in the near abroad have further intensified the illegal intelligence operations of foreign powers targeting Finland. It is our duty to ensure, for our part, that Finland remains the world’s safest country also in the future” says Director Pelttari.

Supo is currently tracking around 370 domestic terror targets on their watchlist, some of them are Finns who have come back from fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The most significant terrorist threat in Finland is still however posed by individual actors or small groups motivated by radical Islamist propaganda or terrorist organisations encouraging them.

These persons are likely to have direct or indirect links to radical Islamist networks or organisations the latest Supo report concludes.