Sweden to scale up cyberwar defense funding

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HELSINKI — Sweden is set to earmark increased budgetary funding to strengthen its cyberwarfare defense infrastructure and increase the country’s capability to protect critical infrastructure.

The need for additional capital funding comes amid the heightened risk of more aggressive foreign cyber-based attacks on Sweden’s military installations, state IT systems, and some of the more sensitive weapons development and research being conducted by the country’s leading defense industry players.

Plans to reinforce spending on cyberwarfare defense programs comes as the National Defence Radio Establishment, the Swedish Defense Forces’ central signals intelligence wing also known as FRA, warns of increasingly aggressive cyber-based assaults by state-backed foreign powers.

The warning by the FRA is contained in the organization’s 2016 report. The agency described the frequency of attacks as both “increasing” and “technically more sophisticated.”

The potential scale of cyberthreats faced by Sweden’s military platforms became evident recently when the Ministry of Defence confirmed that an extensive cyberattack had forced the shutdown of the Swedish Defense Forces’ Caxcis IT system, which is used to plan, manage and monitor military exercises.

The cyberattack rendered the Caxcis IT system inoperative for several hours. The FRA believes that the attack was launched to “seize” classified information and disable workstations.

Sweden’s cyber defense strengthening program is intended to enable both the FRA and the Swedish Defense Forces to develop defensive and offensive tools to defend critical infrastructure, including military installations, government IT systems and the country’s power supply system.

The threat of growing military activity in the Baltic Sea region, combined with the risk of serious cyberattacks against critical infrastructure in Sweden, must be taken seriously, said Dag Hartelius, the FRA’s director general.

“With FRA being a state resource for technical information, it is important to protect the most critical government operations against increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks,” Hartelius said.

The FRA’s signals intelligence systems have recorded a significant surge in advanced and subversive remote-coding attacks on Swedish targets by so-called state-backed foreign actors. There has also reportedly been a rise in the more identifiable distributed denial of service cyberattacks.

Such foreign actors are allegedly using harmful remote-code, mission-led attacks to conceal their identity and cover their tracks. The end objective is to penetrate IT systems, servers and cellphones to “capture” sensitive information, according to the FRA.

Swedish intelligence agencies have long identified Russia as the origin country and launchpad for much of the state-backed cyberattacks against Swedish infrastructure.

Political relations between Stockholm and Moscow have cooled in recent years with Russia responding negatively to both Sweden’s deepening relationship with NATO and the Kremlin’s fear that nonaligned Sweden may decide to join the Western alliance in the future.

The state of political and military relations between Sweden and Russia was a focus when Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström held talks with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow on Feb. 21.

The rise in political tensions between Stockholm and Moscow are also connected to Sweden’s unbridled criticism of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.

“Sweden’s position in condemning the annexation of Crimea is unchanged,” Wallström said. The foreign minister added that Sweden rejects Russia’s claim that Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation of its own accord.

Sweden’s Nordic neighbor, Finland, is also strengthening its cyber defense infrastructure and capabilities in collaboration with NATO. The country has entered into a political framework agreement on cyber defense with the alliance.

“We have been working on the preparation of this agreement since 2011,” said Jukka Juusti, the permanent secretary at Finland’s Ministry of Defence. The agreement contains substantial input from the Finnish Defense Forces’ cyber defense-dedicated units.