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Interview: Individual actions key for enhancing Finnish cybersecurity, says expert

by Denise Wall

HELSINKI, July 15 (Xinhua) -- It's not government institutions but ordinary citizens who represent the weakest link in the war against online spying, Finnish IT expert Petteri Jarvinen has said in a recent interview with Xinhua.

His comment came after recent revelations of cyber espionage that is belived to have targeted Finland's foreign ministry have raised concerns about data and online security in the country's state organizations.

"The frontline of cybersecurity is located in our homes and it's the same for all countries. Every citizen is a cyber warrior," said Jarvinen, who has written some 30 books on information technology and cybersecurity.

He said, "Increasingly in the future internet security lies in our own hands and our national security may depend on individual actions. It's a very worrying trend."

At the beginning of July, Finland's security and intelligence police unit Supo disclosed that officials had discovered two instances of cyber attacks at the Finnish Foreign Ministry.

Supo described the intrusions as sophisticated and difficult to detect.

Jarvinen's latest book, "NSA - How we're being monitored", was released in May and looks at the implications for ordinary Finns arising out of revelations by former U.S. defense contractor Edward Snowden about extensive snooping by the United States National Security Agency on governments and individuals, and using digital channels.

Ultimately, like a slew of his other publications, the tome offers practical prescriptions that ordinary technology users can implement to safeguard the security of their personal data.

But according to Jarvinen, like other countries, Finland appears to be losing the cyber warfare battle at the personal level.

Not only are most individuals apparently too sluggish when it comes to undertaking the simplest of data security routines, he said, they are also lagging behind the increasingly rapid rate of technological development and its security requirements.

"Technological development is putting more pressure on individuals to be proactive about their data and cybersecurity," he said.

"Many people think it's not a big deal," he said. "However information security or cybersecurity on the national level is tied to the security of home PCs and smartphones. If they are vulnerable, they could be used as a conduit to attack on a broader scale."

For many in Finland, Jarvinen's concerns may seem overblown and even alarmist, but he said Finns have existed in a kind of cybersecurity bubble where personal privacy has had strong protection.

"That's not the case elsewhere," he pointed out.

"Finland has traditionally had very strong privacy laws and strong public confidence. But outside of Finland the picture changes and you can't trust that your data will be as strongly protected," the IT expert said.

Even crossing the Gulf of Finland to neighboring Sweden may be fraught with threats to the security of personal data.

New snooping legislation introduced in Sweden in 2009 allowed the country's intelligence-gathering body, the National Defense Radio Establishment FRA, to monitor telephone calls, faxes, emails and internet communications passing the national border, without having to go through the courts.

The law prompted the Swedish-Finnish teleoperator TeliaSonera to move its email servers back to Finland from Sweden to protect its Finnish customers' privacy, as the legislation would have allowed FRA to peer into their correspondence if it deems it necessary.

Jarvinen said he hopes that the exposure of online spying in June at the foreign ministry will serve as a wake-up call to ordinary citizens who take their internet security for granted.

"Companies and state organizations have taken action against perceived threats. But at the individual level the progress is even negative -- we're going in the wrong direction. Every time we fix the holes new ones appear -- in apps, mobile phones and other technology," he added.

According to Jarvinen, it's not a big stretch to protect oneself in the expanding and largely uncharted digital universe.

The perennial staples of using strong passwords, email encryption and anti-virus protection as well as being wary of sharing too much personal data with online services all go a long way toward blocking potential threats, he noted.

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