HELSINKI — One of NATO’s newest members plans to build and jointly operate two research centers and an accelerator facility for the alliance as part of a program dubbed DIANA.

The move comes as Finland also seeks to ramp up its defense strategy and capacity to deal with escalating cyberthreats.

The NATO research centers, which are to focus on new technologies, will be based in the Finnish town of Espoo, while the accelerator unit will be run from a new facility in Oulu, Finland’s leading cyber technology hub.

The Espoo site will collaborate with VTT, Finland’s largest technical research center and the axis for quantum computer development in Finland. The location will also test cyber-secure communications in addition to quantum and space technologies.

The test facility in Oulu, which will operate in cooperation with the University of Oulu, will test 6G network technologies.

Finnish Defence Minister Antti Häkkänen said the accelerator and test centers will create business opportunities for domestic technology companies as well as help lift Finland’s profile among the 32 other fellow NATO member states. Finland joined NATO in April 2023.

“Finland’s leading position, especially in the development of new-generation communication technologies and quantum technologies, is likely to attract operators and experts to Finland. Our status as a global frontrunner of dual-use communication technologies will render Finland more attractive to international financiers and strengthen our technological input as a NATO member,” Häkkänen said in a statement.

NATO launched the DIANA program — or Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic — in 2021 with the mission of identifying challenges for the defense sector. A core part of the program’s mission is to find technologically innovative solutions through partnerships with tech firms inside and outside of the defense industry.

Cyberspace switch

Meanwhile, under a new joint initiative, the Defence Ministry and the Ministry of Transport and Communications are tasked with revamping Finland’s national cybersecurity strategy. The initiative aims to provide the government with an operating model better suited to protect critical military and civilian assets and infrastructure.

Bolstering cyber resilience and improving defensive capabilities were among the chief national security priorities of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s coalition government that took power after parliamentary elections in June 2023.

The urgency behind updating the national cybersecurity strategy became evident during the third quarter of 2023 when Finnish security and intelligence service SUPO warned of a sharp rise in cyberattacks emanating from Russia. Those attacks reportedly targeted state agencies, the Finnish Defence Forces, and their critical IT networks and infrastructure.

In February, SUPO issued an alert that Russia was trying to recruit and train migrants seeking political and economic asylum in Finland as spies. The agency also warned that “hostile forces” in Russia were behind an increase in cyberespionage activities against Finland.

As a result of the heightened security threat — and with Russia allegedly bussing thousands of migrants to Finnish crossing points — Finland closed its 832-mile border with Russia on Feb. 20. The government plans to keep the border closed until April 14 at the earliest.

Finish government websites experienced a distributed denial-of-service attack in April 2022 amid an address to Parliament by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The Finnish government’s drive to strengthen national security is backed by an increase in the cyber defense budget. Finland will spend $350 million on cybersecurity in 2024, corresponding to a 35% increase over 2023. A large part of the additional funding will be used to drive projects and programs that counter artificial intelligence-based cyberthreats.

The budget will support new cybersecurity measures slated for implementation by the military and SUPO in 2024. The increase in the cyber budget is partly influenced by findings and recommendations in a report on AI-enabled cyberattacks, which was delivered to the government in 2022.

The report was created by a group that included the national communications agency Traficom, the National Emergency Supply Agency, and the Helsinki-based cybersecurity firm WithSecure.

The national cybersecurity strategy, once finalized and implemented, will conform with the European Union’s updated directive on measures meant to achieve a high common level of cybersecurity across the bloc, said Rauli Paananen, director Finland’s National Cyber Security Unit.

“Under its plan, the government wants to revamp Finland’s cybersecurity strategy in a way that makes it more able to respond to the changed operating environment and the increasing risk to national security that is posed by threats from the cyber domain,” Paananen said.

The unit ran a major national cybersecurity exercise over five days in mid-February. The KYHA drill included cybersecurity experts in Finnish municipalities as well as state and private sector operators of critical infrastructure.

“Organizations need to develop cyber defense capabilities and resilience, just as Finland needs to develop cyber resilience as a country. Exercises like KYHA strengthen Finland’s cyber resilience, which is also what the cyber security strategy update aims for. The goal of the strategy is to be well prepared as a society,” Paananen said.

Gerard O'Dwyer is the Scandinavian affairs correspondent for Defense News.

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