The financial sector prepares against hybrid threats

Comprehensive protection of the security of citizens, including resilience against hybrid and cyber threats, is one of the priorities of Finland’s EU presidency. The Finnish financial sector fully supports this objective and is committed to achieving appropriate countermeasures in cooperation with the government and other industry sectors. EU finance ministers discussed the subject matter in their informal meeting of ministers for economic and financial affairs on 13–14 September.

This was the first time that the ministers convened to discuss hybrid threats. Finland made a prudent decision in steering the EU-level policy debate to these new threats to the financial market. The Finnish financial sector readily agrees with Minister of Finance Mika Lintilä, who said it was important that decision-makers have an up-to-date understanding of such threats. According to Lintilä, the discussions were a good start to cooperation and to an even more active role in responding to hybrid threats.

General preparedness planning and precautionary measures should be Europe-wide and carried out in close cooperation between the private sector and government. The Finnish financial sector is already a step ahead after launching its own risk and emergency preparedness assessment a year ago in cooperation with the Bank of Finland and relevant European service providers.

Finnish financial markets are tightly integrated with the Nordic, European and Global markets. Access to cross-border financial services is vital for the government’s funding and investment management, for example, and Finnish businesses would be unable to continue their operations without cross-border flows of money, capital and products.

Promoting the smooth operation of payment systems is one of the statutory tasks of the Eurosystem. Finance Finland considers it important that the European Central Bank has tightened its supervisory grip in this area. Revamping and strengthening the mandate of the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) and establishing the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki have also been significant steps forward in countering hybrid threats. At the national level, financial institutions collaborate tightly both within the financial sector, as well as with the authorities such as the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC-FI) and the National Bureau of Investigation’s Cybercrime Centre.

Cooperative response against financial sector threats

The financial sector searches for and evaluates solutions to safeguard the availability of credit transfers, card payments and securities trading under emergency conditions and other major disruptions. Securing access to essential financial services is absolutely crucial for the citizens, the businesses and the civil society, as a whole. According to the national risk assessment of Finland, interruptions in the financial system are one of the principal threats to the vital functions of society.

Potential disruption could be related, for example, to problems in a single bank’s information systems. In such a case the bank would drop out of the system, but other banks would continue to operate. The disruption could rapidly escalate and affect the entire market, but on the other hand, Finns have fairly widely diversified their use of financial services and thus do not necessarily depend on a single bank.

In a more serious scenario, an incident at a critical service provider could cause disruptions in the entire Euro area. Funds and transactions could be stuck until services and connections are recovered. These kinds of situations are precisely what the financial sector is now looking to resolve.

Financial services are part of the societal backbone and the financial sector cannot approach preparedness as an ICT-only issue or an issue that would affect only the sector. However, this is an issue that the financial sector is unable to solve alone and the only way forward is extensive, cross-border cooperation between the public and private sectors.

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Infrastructure and Security

Mika Linna

Head of Financial Crime and Cybersecurity