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Cyberattacks target Finnish radio station over Ukraine-related programmes

The Helsinki-based talk radio station Radio Rapu found itself the target of numerous Denial of Service (DoS) cyberattacks following a series of programmes about the conflict in Ukraine. The attacks also coincided with a series of reports in Russia, claiming that the station was engaged in a propaganda war against Finland’s eastern neighbor.

Image: Yle

According to the Helsinki-based current affairs talk radio station, the cyberattacks were systematic and took place last autumn, usually early in the morning, and resulted in the station’s website crashing.

“At its worst the pages were down for four hours and no one was able to listen to our web broadcasts,” explained radio station director Timo Uusi-Kerttula.

Radio Rapu broadcasts to an audience in the Helsinki and metropolitan area on the 92.2 MHz FM frequency, however its web broadcasts reach an ever wider audience.

The radio station had previously experienced cyberattacks during programmes on the subject of the situation in Ukraine, but the frequency of the attacks increased considerably last autumn, it said.

Early last autumn controversial Finnish political activist Johan Bäckman had reportedly disseminated information in Russian language online media charging that “Radio Rapu is anti-Russian and is waging a propaganda war against Russia.”

“Whoever is behind the attacks opposes the fact that our reporter Aki Pulli is speaking about the situation in Ukraine and has been critical of Russia’s actions,” Uusi-Kerttula commented.

The DoS attacks, however, ended when the radio station moved to protect its website with Google’s Project Shield initiative, which specifically aims to encourage freedom of speech by shielding websites run by small media organisations, elections and human rights groups from denial of service attacks.

NBI mum on Radio Rapu case

Radio Rapu also had to contend with a burglary of its premises that same autumn. Police launched an investigation, but closed the case because nothing was stolen. The station still has no information about the perpetrators or their motives.

Station boss Uusi-Kerttula said he sees the cyberattacks and the burglary as a warning to stop covering Russia and its role in the crisis in Ukraine.

“In spite of these events we haven’t changed our news offering and we haven’t let them affect our editorial policy. The programme that was targeted is still on the air,” he remarked.

Radio Rapu experienced a more recent attempted cyberattack at the end of April. But according to Uusi-Kerttula, it did not affect the station’s website because of the precautionary measures implemented since the autumn.

Denial of Service attacks are a criminal offence in Finland as in many other countries. Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation, which has established a cybercrime unit to investigate such cases, has not commented on the matter.

F-Secure cybersecurity expert: Motive clear, but evidence lacking

Research chief Mikko Hyppönen of cybersecurity firm F-Secure said that DoS attacks are common and that the motive behind such cases varies.

“In the case of Radio Rapu the motive seems clear, but it can’t be proven,” he noted.

DoS attacks can be implemented by software applications known as web robots or 'bots' operating from different parts of the world. They generally work to prevent legitimate users from accessing online services by disrupting their operations, usually by flooding them with traffic. The operators of the bots are often difficult to track.

“The operator could be a cybercriminal in Brazil for example, providing the service to someone in Russia,” Hyppönen explained.

While other Finnish websites have been the target of DoS attacks, Hyppönen said that the Radio Rapu case was particularly interesting because of the connection to the situation in Ukraine.

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