Finland suffers major cyber attack

Finnish police are probing a cyber-attack on a web service that publishes vote tallies less than a week before national elections. Finland is a country in Northern Europe bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, and the Gulf of Finland, between Norway to the north, Sweden to the northwest, and Russia to the east. Finland is a Nordic...

Finnish police are probing a cyber-attack on a web service that publishes vote tallies, less than a week before national elections.

Background

Finland is a country in Northern Europe bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, and the Gulf of Finland, between Norway to the north, Sweden to the northwest, and Russia to the east. Finland is a Nordic country and is situated in the geographical region of Fennoscandia. The capital and largest city is Helsinki.

In 1906, Finland became the first European state to grant all adult citizens the right to vote, and the first in the world to give all adult citizens the right to run for public office.            

Finland was a relative latecomer to industrialisation, remaining a largely agrarian country until the 1950s. After World War II, the Soviet Union demanded war reparations from Finland not only in money but also in material, such as ships and machinery. This forced Finland to industrialise. It rapidly developed an advanced economy while building an extensive welfare state based on the Nordic model, resulting in widespread prosperity and one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Finland is a top performer in numerous metrics of national performance, including education, economic competitiveness, civil liberties, quality of life, and human development.

Finland is a parliamentary republic within the framework of representative democracy. The Prime Minister is the country's most powerful person. The current version of the constitution was enacted on 1 March 2000 and was amended on 1 March 2012. Citizens can run and vote in parliamentary, municipal, presidential and European Union elections.

The 2019 Finnish parliamentary election is scheduled to be held on 14 April 2019.

Analysis

There is no electronic voting in Finland. The recent cyber attack didn’t affect the voting process or the actual counting of ballots, and thus cannot have an impact on the election result, the police said. A similar attack on election night could seriously hamper the media’s access to election results and undermine public trust in the elections. There’s currently no suspect, the police said.

Finns vote in a general election on April 14, with polls open from 9 a.m. local time to 8 p.m. local time, when the results of advance votes cast April 3 to April 9 are disclosed. A full count is likely to be ready before midnight.      

The denial-of-service attack on the website took place last weekend, the National Bureau of Investigation said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. The suspected crime is severe interference with telecommunications, and a pre-trial investigation has just started. The incident is being investigated as ‘grave telecommunications harassment’ under Finnish law.

“The preliminary investigation is at an early stage, so the exact type of criminal charge might become more accurate as the investigation progresses,” says Marko Leponen from the NBI’s Cyber Centre. “The authorities have prepared for this type of suspected cybercrime in the elections. In general, attacks on public services are quite common, and especially current or publicly available services are often attractive targets” Leponen explained.

Meanwhile, more than 1.5 million eligible Finns voted in advance of the general election, as the early voting period came to a close on the night of April 8. According to the official figures, some 36.1% of voters cast their ballots at hundreds of advance polling stations around the country. Although in general, the turnout was high, it varied from region to region.

The busiest part of Finland was in the north, where 43.9% of voters in Lapland voted early. The lowest early turnout was Åland with just 14 % of people casting their ballots in advance. On the mainland, Uusimaa had the lowest turn-out but it was still a very healthy 31.2%.

Assessment

Our assessment is that the Finnish elections are the first major European election before the EU Parliamentary polls scheduled for May 2019 and a similar attack on the election night could seriously hamper the media’s access to election results and undermine public trust in elections. We believe that the Finns will shore up its cyber defence to counter Russia’s attempt to incite mistrust towards authorities, boost anti - EU forces and try to drive a wedge in European unity. We also feel that the Finns will require tools to choke off a swelling tide of bots on social media before the accounts are used to spread misinformation. The Finnish government has also shelved plans to introduce e-voting after deciding that the system was not safe enough. 

Image Courtesy:  https://www.flickr.com/people/miemo/ (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parliament_of_Finland1.jpg), „Parliament of Finland1“, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcod

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