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Countries brace for cyberattacks as Sweden and Finland move to join NATO

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine forced Sweden and Finland to give up their military neutrality in favor of the NATO alliance. Yet, what now seems like a set decision is feared to cause a wave of cyberattacks across the globe.

Calls for companies and critical infrastructure to be on high alert were echoed across developed countries following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia, however, neglected such concerns as “Russophobic.”

With the recent move of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, the cyber war might go to the next stage. Russia perceives the alliance’s expansion as a direct threat to its national security or as “another flank for a military threat.”

"Finland's accession to NATO will cause serious damage to bilateral Russian-Finnish relations and the maintaining of stability and security in the Northern European region. Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to neutralize the threats to its national security that arise from this,” Russia’s official statement on the matter said.

In Sweden, such concerns are also increasing. Along with more aggressive actions, such as violating Swedish space or territorial area, the report by Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs cites growing fears over Russia carrying out “cyberattacks and other forms of hybrid attacks.”

However, it seems like the probability of Russia utilizing the same tactics in the Nordic countries as they did in Ukraine is unlikely. So far, Russia has tried to attack many of Ukraine’s key elements of infrastructure, including banks, electricity networks, and other online or connected services.

“I think it’s unlikely that Russia will launch the types of cyberattacks against Finland and Sweden like it did with Ukraine, primarily because the aims are different,” said Jason Blessing, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the Hill reports.

Unlike Ukraine, both Finland and Sweden are much better positioned to counter cyberattacks. And even if they need further assistance, the US and other NATO members will likely provide it. This makes Russia’s cyber stance weaker in terms of its potential and capabilities.

Finland and Sweden are not the only ones worried about Russia’s cyber aggression. Following stricter sanctions and fewer opportunities for the Kremlin to maneuver, Western nations have issued a number of local warnings to prepare their banks, critical infrastructure facilities, and companies for cyberattacks.

For Jen Ellis from cyber-security firm Rapid7, such warnings – particularly from the US - seem plausible.

"Biden's warnings seem plausible, particularly as the West introduced more sanctions, hacktivists continue to join the fray, and the kinetic aspects of the invasion seemingly don't go to plan," Ellis told the BBC.

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