Privacy in Sweden in times of the Ukraine-Russia war

Women get Ukrainian flag painted on her face

Background

Sweden’s security police Säpo warned of the risk of Russian espionage. People with access to sensitive information are advised to be vigilant.

Read and listen to the press release.

This call by Sweden’s security police is quite remarkable. An open society, transparent and democratic calls the public to make the job for foreign spies trickier.  Something to be truly proud of as a country! 

The press release and interview speaks mentions Russian attempts to recruit agents and spies. The agency is trying to prevent secret information from leaving Sweden. 

 

What is the risk?

The Säpo call individuals with access to sensitive information to be vigilant. Some people are at a risk of becoming a target. Russians might try to lure them into a situation where they share secret information with them. If the Russians do a good job, targets don’t even notice that they’re the leak. Once secrets are shared (and documented), a crime is committed. This can be used to nudge (blackmail) targets into giving up further information. This is a best case scenario. In other scenarios, they might go after the target (or family members) rather forcefully. 

Russian strategy is based on disinformation, malicious cyber activities and interference in domestic affairs. A number of countries has suffered destabilisation of their societies and governments (e.g. Brexit, 2016 Us election, Anti-Vax movement etc.).  To understand the risks better, it is worth to explore Russian strategic interests.

Russian strategic interests

Whilst we are not familiar with any Russian operations, it is fair to assume that anyone with knowledge that is of strategic interest to Russia is a potential target. Russian strategic interests have multiple touch points with the civil society in Sweden (and other Western countries). Its two strategic interests are:   

1) Russia wants to retain and exert its influence in the former Soviet republics including the three Baltic states. This most-likely assumes to keep Sweden neutral (not in NATO). 

2) Russia keeps the former Soviet republics from drifting westward. This includes preventing western policy of democracy promotion.

3) In addition there are specific regional strategic objectives for all geographical areas (e.g. Baltic region, Gotland island etc.)

To the strategic interests, one must also add few tactical interests of Russia:

1) Oil and gas industry

2) Agriculture

3) Media and social networks

4) The critics of Russia   

The strategic interests drive the actions. Multiple actions derive from the strategic interests. The Russians will look to advance on multiple layers to improve the odds of advancing their interests. 

How does Russia defends its strategic interests?

 

The Kremlin will seek to influence open, liberal countries like Sweden to shape discussion and create division. It is part of their peacetime hybrid war operations and information warfare. Now with the Ukraine invasion ongoing, things will only intensify.

People or/and Organization that provide products or services to a military or intelligence departments are a natural target. 

Here is a list of natural targets: 

  • Defense industry
  • Nuclear industry 
  • Cyber
  • Policy makers, Think Tanks
  • Diplomats, Politicians
  • Scholars, Researchers that touch any topics above
  • Translators 
  • Decision makers in companies with significant Russian investments
  • IT (Network security, DevOps, Admins, Architects who support people mentioned above)
  • Businesses that provide technology that is of vital interests to Russia. 
 
Let’s take a minute to critically think about whether your work offer any benefit to the Russian state? You know your line of work best. It might be far-fetched, but here is an example of how it could play out. Highly hypothetical example to help you to think outside the box when it comes to your work.

Example

Imagine being a system engineer who works for a Swedish start-up. The business provides satellite images to help farmers increase the crop yield.

Scenario: After the Ukraine war many fields in Ukraine are destroyed. Harvests are dismal. Food prices go up.  Many people start to voice our unhappiness about it.

Russians come up with a plan to drive up food prices even more in the EU to stirr unrest (and to benefit from it financially as worlds leading wheat exporter).

Their mission: Targeting you to steal company’s technology for the exclusive use by Russians. 

Method: They managed to get hold of your log in credentials including the access to you Google 2FA app. Using your logins, the copied business critical data and code. Afterwards they inserted a malicious code into the software making it useless. It took months to discover that your business was feeding clients false parameters. 

You got the blame for it in the end although it seemed unlike you to dispatch sketchy code like this. You blamed your lack of focus on that unforgettable lady you’re dating for a while before she suddenly disappeared without trace. You kept wondering: “What did I do wrong for her to ghost me like this?”

 Company went out of the business. 

How to avoid becoming a target?

Many of the people affected work in sensitive industries. As such you will already have guidelines to follow from your employer. Now it is time to sharpen up all the security routines.  

It is advisable to keep a low profile and to guard your privacy. The very open society of Sweden with unrestricted access to anyone’s data is a risk. At MyPrivacy.se we recommend all expats to request internet directories to remove their data. At the bottom of this post, you can find out how we can help you to guard your privacy. 

Keeping a low profile means also a very conscious use of social media including LinkedIn. Check for old post and remove anything of interest. 

It is a good time to practise some digital hygiene. Make sure your computer and your network are safe. 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

DIY guides to help you preserve your privacy

Digital Privacy and online reputation management