Finland Probes Hacking of Foreign Ministry Network

Finland’s Security Police is investigating the infiltration of the Foreign Ministry’s data network by spies, Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said.

“The data breach was an extensive attempt to spy on an entire network,” Tuomioja told reporters in Helsinki yesterday after broadcaster MTV3 reported the ministry’s network was the target of intelligence gathering for as long as four years. “It seems to have been going on for an extended period of time.”

While the targeted network contains confidential information, the most sensitive data wasn’t transmitted through it, he said.

Espionage has taken center stage in international politics after an electronic surveillance program by the U.S. National Security Agency came to light in June, when Edward Snowden, a technical assistant working at the organization, leaked top-secret documents. German authorities are investigating allegations that U.S. intelligence bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone in 2010.

Breaching Trust

“Every time trust is breached it’s detrimental,” Tuomioja said. “Diplomatic relations are based on trust.”

Foreign spying on technology companies is an escalating threat to Finland’s economy, the nation’s counter-intelligence agency, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service, said on March 1. The government in Helsinki approved a national cybersecurity strategy on Jan. 24 to support the military and companies operating critical infrastructure counter threats. It targets the implementation of measures outlined in the strategy by 2016, including setting up a Cybersecurity Center at the start of next year to monitor threats.

“We have a cybersecurity strategy of how to improve things,” Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen said in an interview with MTV3 yesterday. “It takes some time. We try to be ahead, and to get ahead, but in this case we weren’t.”

Russian and Chinese intelligence operators are suspected of the cyber espionage, Helsinki-based MTV3 said, citing sources it didn’t identify.

Data Race

The government “can’t at this stage confirm or deny the suspects,” Tuomioja said. The hacking was discovered early this year based on a tip from outside the country, and the government has discussed it on several occasions, he said.

The government didn’t publish the hacking when it was discovered to help investigation, Katainen said.

“We didn’t want those who spied on us to know that we know,” he said.

While there is evidence other countries’ networks have also been breached, the hacking of the Finnish network didn’t endanger any other nations’ data, Tuomioja said, without giving details.

“This shows that the race between protecting data and data breaches is ongoing,” Tuomioja said.

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