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How can people in Sweden prepare for possible cyber attacks?

Experts have warned of an increase in possible cyber attacks and disinformation in Sweden following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. What can individuals in Sweden do to prepare for this possibility?

How can people in Sweden prepare for possible cyber attacks?
Here's how you can prepare for a cyber attack. Photo: Annika Byrde/TT

How likely is it that Sweden will be attacked?

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stated in a press conference on February 24th following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that “there is a clear risk for cyber attacks, but also for other hybrid threats against Sweden.”

Sweden’s government have stated that they consider the risk of nuclear attacks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “unlikely”, despite a threatening speech where Putin warned “outsiders who are considering getting involved: if you do so, you will meet consequences greater than any you have met in history”.

Foreign Minister Ann Linde told the same press conference that “it is in Russia’s interest to use threats of nuclear weapons as a strategic deterrence, but our assessment of the situation is that the use of nuclear weapons in this situation is unlikely.”

What is a cyber attack and how could Sweden be affected?

The term ‘cyber attack’ can refer to a number of different types of attack. One of these is a form of cyber attack referred to as ‘hack-and-leak’, which has the aim of spreading sensitive information or disinformation in order to release it into the public domain, often in order to steer public debate by causing a scandal.

Russia have used this kind of attack before – 12 Russian intelligence officers were accused by the US Department of Justice in 2018 of carrying out hack-and-leak attacks intended to interfere with the 2016 US Presidential election.

Sweden have also accused Russia’s military intelligence of using this kind of attack against the country before – in 2017 and 2018 against Sweden’s national sports association.

Sweden’s next election is scheduled for September this year, which puts the country in a vulnerable position from outside forces regarding this kind of attack.

Another form of cyber attack is an attack targetting a country’s critical computer systems, such as infrastructural systems regarding energy, transportation and government operation – this kind of attack is often referred to as cyber warfare or cyberterrorism.

How can I be prepared for hack-and-leak attacks?

On an individual level, it may be difficult to prepare for hack-and-leak attacks, as they often target government institutions or political parties.

The best way to prepare against this kind of attack is to be on the lookout for false information, and be critical of the source of any information you encounter.

The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) states in its 2018 advisory brochure ‘If Crisis or War Comes’ (available in 17 languages including Swedish and English) – that “states and organisations are already using misleading information in order to try and influence our values and how we act”, adding that “the best protection against false information and hostile propaganda is to critically appraise the source”.

They list six questions you can ask yourself in order to assess the trustworthiness of any information you come across:

  • Is this factual information or opinion?
  • What is the aim of this information?
  • Who is circulating this information?
  • Is the source trustworthy?
  • Is this information available somewhere else?
  • Is this information new or old, and why is it being circulated at this precise moment?

They also advise individuals to search for information themselves, look for more than one reliable source to verify information rather than believing rumours, and avoid spreading information which may not be trustworthy.

How can I be prepared for cyber attacks targetting infrastructure?

Attacks targetting Sweden’s critical computer systems could affect a wide range of infrastructural systems, including electricity (as well as heating, internet and mobile networks), banking systems (such as bank cards, cash machines, Swish and BankID), transportation, water systems (affecting drinking water and plumbing), and even access to food, such as in this attack in 2021 blocking access to checkouts in Swedish supermarket chain Coop’s stores.

It can be difficult to prepare for this kind of attack, as there are many possible targets, but the best advice is to consult MSB’s ‘If Crisis or War Comes’ brochure, which includes a checklist for what items you should try and have ready. Although it is good to ensure you have some items at home just in case, this advice does not mean you need to panic buy now, as there is little risk of an immediate attack.

These items include non-perishable food and drink which requires no or little water to prepare, bottled water and containers to store water in, warm clothes, blankets and heat sources which are not reliant on electricity, candles, a torch, a radio which can function without mains electricity, cash in small denominations, medicines, hand sanitiser and fuel if you have a car.

What else should I be aware of?

It is a good idea to be aware of Sweden’s warning signals, designed to alert the population in the case of a possible crisis.

This siren system is known as ‘Hoarse Fredrik’, and is tested in populated areas all over Sweden, on the first Monday of March, June, September and December at three o’clock on the dot.

If you hear Hoarse Fredrik outside of these times, he’s warning the public of danger such as a big fire or an explosion. If you hear this signal at a time where testing is not scheduled (seven-second blasts interspersed with 14-second silence, followed by a longer signal which indicates ‘hazard over’), you should go inside, close all windows and turn on Swedish public radio.

In wartime, on the other hand, the air raid alarm (which consists of a signal with regular two-second bursts, lasting for a minute in total) will instead be used, and when you hear that you should head to your nearest shelter, and again, turn on the radio.

Sweden’s 65,000 shelters have enough space for 7 million people, and are mainly for use in larger towns and cities which can be difficult to evacuate. You can recognise them easily – all shelters display a sign comprising of a blue triangle inside an orange square, over the word skyddsrum in capital letters.

Here is The Local’s article on Sweden’s shelters for more information, including how you can find your nearest shelter.

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