Finnish intelligence warns Russia ‘highly likely’ to turn to cyber in winter

The head of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Suojelupoliisi or SUPO) says it is “highly likely that Russia will turn to the cyber environment over the winter” for espionage due to challenges impacting its human intelligence work.

In the unclassified National Security Overview 2022 published on Thursday, SUPO said that Russia’s traditional intelligence gathering approach using spies with diplomatic cover “has become substantially more difficult since Russia launched its war of aggression in Ukraine, as many Russian diplomats have been expelled from the West.”

The agency acknowledged that there are still some active intelligence officers working inside the country, but said the Finnish government “has probably severed the connection to their Russian networks, at least for the time being, and little information is available through the usual channels.”

The report warns that the Russian security and intelligence services have not abandoned human intelligence and were “increasingly targeting foreigners who reside in or visit Russia” as well as Russians working in the West when they return. SUPO assessed that Russian citizens who occupied critical positions in Finland were particularly at risk of coercion from the Russian authorities.

"The threat of corporate espionage by Russia is also increasing as sanctions necessitate the launch of high-technology manufacturing to replace imports from the West. This places a particular premium on data security in Finnish businesses," the public intelligence assessment stated.

Despite a number of cyberattacks targeting Ukraine's critical infrastructure – amounting to what a senior British cybersecurity official described as “probably the most sustained and intensive cyber campaign on record” – SUPO's director Antti Pelttari said that the agency considered it "unlikely that any cyberattack will paralyze critical infrastructure [in Finland] in the near future."

The agency’s warning follows The Record reporting earlier this month that fears are growing about Russian cyber spies turning to industrial espionage, based on a Russian government acknowledgement that its domestic technology industry was lagging foreign competitors by more than a decade, and a speech President Vladimir Putin delivered to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service stressing the priority for the spies to support “the industrial and technological development of our country.”

Finland, which had historically declared itself to be a non-aligned country – in part due to troubled relations with Russia, with whom it shares a 830-mile border – applied to join NATO this year following the invasion of Ukraine.

SUPO said that NATO membership would make Finland “a more interesting target for Russian intelligence and influence operations” particularly in regards to its military policy.

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Alexander Martin

Alexander Martin

is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.