Finland takes lead defending EU, NATO from hybrid, cyber threats

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HELSINKI — Finland has rolled out significant legislative and intelligence facility funding proposals meant to strengthen national security and cyber-defense infrastructure.

One major initiative includes the establishment in Helsinki of the NATO-supported European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, or ECE-CHT.

More: EU, NATO opens center to combat info warfare

On the legislative side, Finland’s military and national security agencies will receive more expansive powers to conduct intelligence gathering inside and outside Finland’s borders.

The initiatives take place as Nordic national and military intelligence agencies issue fresh warnings regarding a potential escalation in cyberattacks, mainly from Russian sources, that could target their critical government, defense and national security IT platforms.

Initially, the United States and eight mainly NATO-aligned European nations will contribute expertise and funding to the ECE-CHT.

Apart from Finland, the countries backing ECE-CHT include France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and Britain. Other states are expected to join the ECE-CHT, which is due to open in the second half of 2017.

The ECE-CHT will provide NATO with an additional counter-hybrid strategy resource. Other centers of excellence that already contribute to NATO’s efforts to counter hybrid threats include the Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga, Latvia, and the Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia.

“The ECE-CHT will enhance Finland’s role in developing the European Union’s and NATO’s cooperation in preventing hybrid threats. The Helsinki location is a recognition of Finland’s comprehensive security model, which brings together various societal institutions to participate in fostering security,” said Jarno Limnéll, a cybersecurity expert at the Helsinki-based Aalto University.

The enhancement of surveillance powers for the military and national security agencies is fronted by legislative bills advanced by the ministries of Defence, Justice and the Interior.

Under the planned reforms, Finland’s national security agency, SUPO, will be able to gather and process technically based intelligence from cross-border network traffic for the first time.

More: How harried Finland fends off nation-states in cyberspace

A ministerial working group has been established to oversee the drafting of new legislation, which is expected to reach the Finnish Parliament in autumn 2017.

The powers currently available to Finland’s military intelligence are being expanded to bolster the country’s defense capabilities. These will give the armed forces greater legal authority to conduct human, signals, information system and telecommunications intelligence operations, said Hanna Nordström, the ministerial working group’s chairperson.

“One objective of strengthened security operations would be to obtain information on relevant foreign military behavior and intelligence activities, and activities that pose a threat to public order, the development and distribution of military materials, and international crises,” Nordström said.