Finland hosts NATO technical center, revamps cybersecurity strategy

HELSINKI — One of NATO’s new member states plans to build and co-operate two research centers and accelerator facilities for the alliance as part of a program called DIANA.

The move comes as Finland also seeks to strengthen its defense strategy and capabilities to deal with escalating cyber threats.

The NATO research center, which focuses on new technologies, will be based in Espoo, Finland, and the accelerator unit will operate from a new facility in Oulu, one of Finland’s leading cyber technology hubs.

The Espoo site will collaborate with VTT, Finland’s largest technology research center and the country’s quantum computer development hub. In addition to quantum and space technologies, cyber-secure communications will also be tested here.

The Oulu test facility will be operated in cooperation with the University of Oulu and will test 6G network technology.

Finland’s Defense Minister Antti Hakkenen said the accelerator and testing center would not only create business opportunities for domestic technology companies, but also help raise Finland’s profile among the other 32 NATO member states. Finland joined NATO in April 2023.

“Finland occupies a leading position, especially in the development of new generation communications and quantum technologies, which is likely to attract carriers and experts to Finland. As a global frontrunner in dual-use communications technologies, Our position will make Finland more attractive to international financial institutions and strengthen our technological input as a NATO member,” Häkkanen said in a statement.

In 2021, NATO launched the DIANA program (North Atlantic Defense Innovation Accelerator) with a mission to identify challenges in the defense sector. A core part of the program’s mission is to find technologically innovative solutions through partnerships with technology companies within and outside the defense industry.

cyberspace switch

Meanwhile, under a new joint initiative, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Transport and Communications are tasked with revamping Finland’s national cybersecurity strategy. This effort aims to provide governments with a better operating model to protect critical military and civilian assets and infrastructure.

Strengthening cyber resilience and improving defense capabilities were among the top national security priorities of Prime Minister Petteri Orupo’s coalition government, which came to power after the June 2023 parliamentary elections.

The urgency of updating the national cybersecurity strategy was made clear in Q3 2023 when Finland’s security and intelligence agency SUPO warned of a surge in cyberattacks from Russia. These attacks reportedly targeted state institutions, the Finnish Defense Forces, and their critical IT networks and infrastructure.

SUPO issued a warning in February that Russia was trying to recruit and train migrants seeking political and economic asylum in Finland as spies. The agency also warned that Russian “hostile forces” were behind the increase in cyber espionage against Finland.

Finland closed its 832-mile border with Russia on February 20 in response to growing security threats and Russia’s alleged busing of thousands of migrants to the Finnish border. The government plans to keep borders closed until April 14 at the earliest. .

In April 2022, a government website suffered a distributed denial of service attack during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s speech to parliament. Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The Finnish government’s efforts to strengthen national security are supported by an increase in the cyber defense budget. Finland plans to spend $350 million on cybersecurity in 2024, representing a 35% increase over 2023. The bulk of the additional funding will be used to advance projects and programs to combat artificial intelligence-based cyber threats.

The budget will support new cybersecurity measures that the military and SUPO plan to implement in 2024. The increase in the cyber budget is partially influenced by the findings and recommendations of the 2022 report on AI-powered cyberattacks submitted to the government.

The report was prepared by a group including national communications agency Traficom, the National Emergency Supply Agency and Helsinki-based cybersecurity company WithSecure.

Once finalized and implemented, the National Cybersecurity Strategy will comply with the European Union’s latest directives on measures aimed at achieving a high common level of cybersecurity throughout the region, says Finland’s National Cybersecurity Strategy. Director Lauri Paananen said.

“Under the plan, the government wants to revamp Finland’s cybersecurity strategy to be more responsive to the changing business environment and the increasing risks to national security posed by threats from the cyber domain.” said Paananen.

The unit conducted a large-scale national cybersecurity exercise over five days in mid-February. The KYHA training included cybersecurity experts from Finnish municipalities as well as state and private sector operators of critical infrastructure.

“Just as Finland needs to develop its cyber resilience as a country, organizations need to develop their cyber defense capabilities and resilience. Exercises like KYHA will strengthen Finland’s cyber resilience, but “This is also the purpose of our Cybersecurity Strategy Update. The goal of this strategy is to be well prepared as a society,” Paananen said.

Gerald O’Dwyer is Defense News’ Scandinavian affairs correspondent.

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