Is there electronic warfare behind the block of Swedish air traffic control systems?

Pierluigi Paganini April 13, 2016

Swedish experts warned of an electronic warfare attack on its air traffic control systems occurred in November. Is it electronic warfare?

Swedish experts suspect that the attack on its air traffic control systems last November was operated by Russian nation-state hackers, the Arlanda, Landvetter and Bromma airport reported the major problems.

The Swedish experts believe the cyber attacks were carried out by an elite hacking crew linked to the Russian military intelligence service GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate).

The attack had a significant impact on the country, the national air traffic control systems were unavailable on November 4, 2015. The air traffic controllers were unable to use their computers resulting in the cancellation of several domestic and international flights.

The official cause of the problems provided by the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration is a solar storm, but according to the Norwegian news agency, Swedish experts notified NATO about a series of serious cyber attacks targeting the country.

A solar storm was really observed in the same period, but experts believe the Russians military might have been using it as a cover to test their electronic warfare capabilities on a live target.

“The message was passed on to NATO either by Sweden’s National Defence Radio Establishment (Försvarets radioanstalt, FRA) or the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (Militära underrättelse- och säkerhetstjänsten, MUST),” a senior NATO source (who unsurprisingly asked to remain anonymous) told

Despite The Swedish Government is not in the NATO, the information about the attacks was shared with the organizations with representatives of neighboring countries (Norway and Denmark).

“… sources tell that Swedish authorities at the same time sent urgent messages to NATO saying Sweden, which is not a member of the alliance, was under a serious cyber attack. Two separate warnings are thought to have been issued, then relayed to several NATO allies, including Norway and Denmark. The information provided by Sweden indicated that the Swedes believed the cyber attack was led by a so-called APT group (Advanced Persistent Threat) which previously has been linked to the Russian military intelligence service GRU.” states the aldremer.

The experts expressed their concerns about the possible further cyber attacks on that state power company Vattenfall.

The incident occurred in Sweden reportedly coincided with Russian electronic warfare activity in the Baltic Sea region. The activities included jamming attacks originated in Kaliningrad, in the south of Lithuania.

sweden air traffic control systems

The jamming activities also targeted air traffic communication channels that might have resulted in the block of the Swedish air traffic control systems.

“At the time Sweden is believed to have issued a cyber attack warning, NATO reportedly detected Russia electronic warfare activity in the Baltic Sea region. Sources tell that the activity included jamming of air traffic communication channels. The signals were reportedly traced to a large and fairly new radio tower located in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, south of Lithuania.

When contacted national Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) centres in Norway, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania about the possible cyber attack, they all declined to comment.”

The Sweden’s civil aviation administration is currently still investigating the event. [adrotate banner=”9″]

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Pierluigi Paganini 

(Security Affairs – Sweden, Information warfare)

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