US blames Russia for huge 2016 cyberattack on Swedish media: report

The United States believes Russian hackers were behind a massive cyberattack on Sweden’s biggest news sites in 2016, Buzzfeed News has reported.

US blames Russia for huge 2016 cyberattack on Swedish media: report
Photo: hacker/Depositphotos

Buzzfeed News – a branch of the American media giant that distinguishes itself for its more serious, investigative journalism – published Friday a report that claims to shed light on suspicious glitches experienced by at least nine of Sweden's largest media sites in March 2016. 

Based on a partially released cable Buzzfeed News obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Russia is allegedly suspected of the attacks that blacked out the major news sites in an alleged attempt to dissuade Sweden from cooperating with NATO.

The cyberattack came at a time when the Swedish government was debating whether to approve a cooperation treaty with NATO, which Sweden is not a member of but has worked with more closely in recent years.

“Russia has focused significant resources on specific Partners, like Sweden and Finland,” the cable reportedly reads.

“Russian actors are suspected of being behind recent efforts to infiltrate Sweden with distorted and false information about NATO in the Swedish press, at think tank events and on social media.”

Russian military intelligence operatives are also reported to have carried out the attack on Sweden at the same time as they penetrated Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

According to Buzzfeed News, “the attacks (on Swedish news sites) weren’t sophisticated — they were merely a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), which overloads a network with too much traffic, keeping it from being able to load — but they were powerful enough to keep readers from accessing at least nine of the country’s biggest news sites”.

The attacks began on March 19 and continued against at least some of these Swedish sites for five days.

They either partially or totally shut down the sites of Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Aftonbladet, Dagens Industri, Sydsvenskan and Helsingborgs Dagblad.

Sweden’s government has never publicly blamed Russia for the media attacks.

Swedish police said at the time that some of the suspected IP addresses were Russian, but that wasn’t enough to pinpoint the true culprits. 

Internet traffic to Sweden from Russian users increased significantly during the time of the attacks.

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Sweden steps up Baltic defence in ‘signal’ to Russia

Sweden's defence minister has said his country is carrying out military exercises in the Baltic Sea to 'send a signal' to countries including Russia.

Sweden steps up Baltic defence in 'signal' to Russia
Swedish troops on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. Photo: Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten/TT

The so-called “high readiness action” means the Swedish army, navy and air force are currently more visible in the southeastern and southern Baltic Sea and on the island of Gotland.

No details have been disclosed about the number of troops involved in the action.

Sweden is “sending a signal both to our Western partners and to the Russian side that we are prepared to defend Sweden's sovereignty,” Hultqvist told news agency TT.

Ground troops on Gotland. Photo: Bezhav Mahmoud/Försvarsmakten/TT

“There is currently extensive military activity in the Baltic Sea, conducted by Russian as well as Western players, on a scale the likes of which have not been seen since the Cold War,” the Swedish Armed Forces' Commander of Joint Operations, Jan Thörnqvist, said in a statement.

“The exercise activities are more complex and have arisen more rapidly than before. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has caused global anxiety and uncertainty. Over all, the situation is more unstable and more difficult to predict,” Thörnqvist said.

A Visby-class corvette and two Jas Gripen jets in the air. Photo: Antonia Sehlstedt/Försvarsmakten/TT

Hultqvist said Sweden was also monitoring developments in Belarus “very closely”.

Non-Nato member Sweden, which has not been to war in two centuries and which slashed military spending at the end of the Cold War, reopened a garrison on Gotland in January 2018 amid concerns about Russian intentions in Europe and the Baltic.