​Finland’s intelligence: don’t take your phone overseas

Finland’s Security Intelligence Service, Supo, has advised citizens not to take any electronic devices with them when travelling abroad due to the risk of compromise.

The Nordic nation’s intelligence agency has warned citizens against taking phones, laptops and tablets when travelling to any other foreign country, Finland’s national broadcaster YLE reported.

Supo also said if devices must be taken abroad that under no circumstances should they be left in a hotel room. It also advised against trusting the security of hotel room safes.

The risks associated with carrying electronic devices abroad are well known to public and private sector employees, be they mathematicians, scientists, business execs or any person whose devices may contain sensitive, regulated or valuable information.

However, Supo’s warning also appears to be directed at the general public and linked to the agency’s concerns over “security gaps” in foreign networks that are present by accident or design.

"The advice to leave phones at home especially applies to work phones, but I wouldn't really want to take my phone to certain countries either," Tuomas Portaankorva, a Supo spokesperson is quoted as saying.

Travellers shouldn’t speak on a phone about any confidential matter when travelling overseas because foreign security services do gather information from SIM cards that connect to mobile networks. Additionally, mobile networks or a local network, such as a hotel’s wi-fi connection, could be used to deliver malware.

Though somewhat paranoid, the gist of the message is similar to an awareness campaign launched in June by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

That campaign, aimed at business travellers, suggested using disposable “burner” phones, even in countries considered to be US allies.

“It doesn’t matter where you travel, you could be targeted, not only by foreign intelligence who often operate in foreign countries, but also by business competitors — even in countries friendly to the US,” the ODNI campaign stated.

It went on to say that “when you’re travelling, you have no privacy and … all your communications might be watched”.

Though, as YLE highlights, there are heightened concerns in Finland and its Nordic neighbours, Sweden and Norway, over sophisticated malware attacks that are widely considered to be the work of Russian state-sponsored hackers.

A recent report from the Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs highlighted a surge in geopolitically motivated cyber attacks in the Nordic-Baltic Region, pointing to recent malware campaigns such as Duke, Red October, and Turla.

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