Jarno Limnéll, Saara Jantunen-Paju, and Catharina Candolin on Countering Information Warfare

Global Politics and Communications hosts a year end event with Member of Parliament Jarno Limnéll, and other experts, addressing information warfare.



This event concluded the academic year for the Global Politics and Communication (GPC) programme and coincided with the Women in Global Security student exchange between the University of Helsinki and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) sponsored by the US Embassy in Finland, the Faculty of Social Sciences, and GPC. The event focused on information security and information warfare, and on ways to counter cyber and information threats. The esteemed panelists were Jarno Limnéll, Member of Parliament and Professor of Practice at Aalto University, Saara Jantunen-Paju, Senior Communications Specialist at the Finnish Prime Minister’s Office and Doctor of Military Science, and Catharina Candolin, Cyber Expert at the OP Financial Group and board member of SSH Communications Security. The event was organized and moderated by GPC Programme Director S.M. Amadae.  

Opening remarks 


Jarno Limnéll: “Misinformation and disinformation are the biggest threats to world peace in the next two years” 


MP Jarno Limnéll’s talk focused on the prominence of information influencing and the cyber dimension in contemporary security thinking. Limnéll’s main contention was that information influencing and information warfare are everybody’s concern, and that individual responsibility is of paramount importance in this area. Limnéll predicted that the role of the individual will become increasingly emphasized in terms of protection against information warfare. For the maintenance of ordinary citizens’ mental resiliency and feeling of security, Limnéll emphasized the importance of security-related to-do lists, everyday routines, and our daily dealings at work, in school, or at home. According to Limnéll, citizens’ feeling of security is a crucial hard security issue, which can also be bolstered by communicating information honestly and realistically to citizens, even if the information in question is unpleasant. In Limnéll’s estimation, considering the feeling of security among the population will become increasingly important in security thinking in the coming years. 

Limnéll highlighted the fact that, according to the World Economic Forum’s expert network, of which he is a member, misinformation and disinformation will be the biggest threats to world peace in the next two years. The justification for this estimation is twofold. Firstly, there are several elections coming up in the next two years, for instance, the European Parliament election. There is a great deal of discussion about possible efforts to influence this election, and the need to safeguard it. Secondly, artificial intelligence provides the means for hostile actors to influence people’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior through, for instance, AI-generated fake pictures and videos, which can be used to promote false narratives. 

Given the rapid development of technology and the prevalence of information influencing, Limnéll also advocated for the elimination of what he perceives to be false dichotomies in security thinking, such as war-peace, digital security-physical security, and internal security-external security. For instance, even though Finland is not currently engaged in a war, Limnéll argued that the present situation is not one of total peace and calmness either, given Russia’s behavior regarding Finland’s eastern border and its hostile cyber operations. In Limnéll’s view, cyber security and physical security are closely intertwined, and will not be treated as separate entities in the future. Instead, people will just talk about security, of which the cyber dimension is an integral component, and an arena in which battles are fought over our thoughts and feelings.



Saara Jantunen-Paju: “Russia uses the future and the past against us” 


Dr. Saara Jantunen-Paju's main thesis was that Russia uses both revisionist history and threat scenarios in its information and psychological warfare against the West. Jantunen-Paju argued that, instead of just focusing on disinformation, we should also recognize Russia’s pervasive utilization of threat scenarios. Disinformation is merely one component in Russia’s much more comprehensive information warfare strategy. In this context, Jantunen-Paju emphasized the necessity to always consider if the future scenarios one hears are genuine future scenarios or threat scenarios which are used as a tool of psychological warfare. The difficulty, according to Jantunen-Paju, is that it is not always easy to distinguish between genuine future scenarios and psychological warfare, since future scenarios are almost always threat-oriented. Consequently, we may be vulnerable to psychological warfare that is masquerading as genuine future scenarios. 

The threat scenarios that Russia employs, which are masked as genuine future scenarios, permeate the Western mediascape and can even influence our decisions on supporting Ukraine. Santunen-Paju remarked that Russia, as part of its psychological warfare campaign, warns the West that its continued support for Ukraine will only escalate the conflict, with disastrous results in Ukraine and beyond. Russia also promotes the narrative that the West’s response to Russia’s aggression will have a detrimental economic impact for Western European countries, claiming that sanctions against Russia will cause inflation, depression, and a general collapse of the European economy. Another common claim in the Russian media is that European efforts to end dependency on Russian energy will lead to an energy crisis. All these threat scenarios are designed to deter the West from continuing to support Ukraine and sanction Russia for its aggression. 

Jantunen-Paju noted that the sanctions against Russia, and the West’s response to Putin’s invasion in general, are portrayed in Russia as aggression against Russia. This has further contributed to the demonization of the West, which Jantunen-Paju argued has been institutionalized in Russia in the 21st century.



Catharina Candolin: “A cyber attack can be considered equivalent to an armed attack if the scale and impact are similar” 


Dr. Catharina Candolin spoke about cyber space and its increasingly important status in national defense and warfare. As a result of rapidly evolving technology, nation-states have started to pursue military, political and economic objectives in cyber space, and build increasingly sophisticated cyber capabilities. As the war in Ukraine illustrates, the cyber domain is now one of the core aspects of warfare, in addition to sea, air, land and space. According to Candolin, this state of affairs is now the new normal. 

As Candolin explained, the main target of cyber attacks is critical infrastructure, given its vital importance to the functioning of society. If even one component of critical infrastructure, such as telecommunications, is disabled, the consequences for the society would be severe. Furthermore, due to the highly interdependent nature of different components of critical infrastructure, the disabling of one component can have disastrous effects on the other ones. Therefore, Candolin argued, a cyber attack can be considered equivalent to an armed attack, if the scale and impact are similar. This would then justify a defensive counterattack, which, according to Candolin, does not necessarily need to be limited to cyber operations. However, as Candolin stressed, great care needs to be taken to ensure that the counterattack is proportionate and legal. 

Candolin raised two important factors with regard to mounting a counterattack in response to hostile cyber operations. Firstly, there needs to be sufficient technical skills to identify the culprit. Secondly, there has to be enough political will to attribute the attack to the culprit. Candolin also discussed the importance of a well-defined chain of command in responding to cyber attacks, and the necessity to have up-to-date legislation, which allows us to address these issues effectively. International co-operation is also important in this area, among, for instance, EU and NATO members. Also, as Candolin pointed out, a cyber attack on a single NATO member can be considered sufficient justification for the activation of Article 5, the mutual defense clause of the alliance.


Panel discussion 


How to take care of mental resiliency in the current era? 


Professor Amadae opened the panel discussion by asking MP Limnéll about the specific ways in which resiliency and psychological buoyancy can be maintained in our everyday lives, and how educators and universities can contribute in this area. Limnéll stated that it is important to detect and prepare for threats, and to formulate backup plans in case something goes wrong. In addition to preparedness on a societal level, Limnéll stressed the importance of individuals to have a plan B and even a plan C. As examples of such individual preparedness, Limnéll raised storing water in one’s garage, having a battery-operated radio, and travelling to one’s summer cottage if one’s own home becomes unlivable. Limnéll commended the resilience and preparedness of the Ukrainian people, for instance their ability to maintain and re-establish their internet connections. He also highlighted the importance of the comprehensive security model, which engages the whole society, from private companies to individuals and universities. This is something where Finland can be a model for others. Limnéll also remarked that international co-operation is vital in the cyber domain, and no-one can manage in this area on their own. 

Dr. Jantunen-Paju emphasized the importance of taking care of one’s privacy. She pointed out that private information can be weaponized by hostile actors for blackmailing and character assassination purposes. Therefore, Jantunen-Paju advocated, for instance, the use of encrypted communication devices and software with self-deleting messages. Dr. Candolin further commented that parents, in addition to protecting their own privacy, should safeguard their children's privacy, and consider carefully what kind of pictures and information of them they post on social media. While stressing the importance of protecting one’s privacy, she also noted that artificial intelligence and deepfakes offer malevolent actors opportunities to defame people, no matter how careful they are with their privacy. 



How to differentiate between real future scenarios and threat scenarios? 


Dr. Jantunen-Paju was asked if there are any methods by which we can distinguish between real future scenarios and threat scenarios that are used as psychological warfare. Jantunen-Paju noted that there is no easy way to do this and emphasized that, even though we should not disbelieve everything Russia says, Russia does use threat scenarios that are used to influence our decision-making and willingness to help Ukraine. Jantunen-Paju also argued that actions in the real world can have a psychological impact. For instance, if the YLE (Finnish national broadcasting company) satellite tower was attacked, it would have an impact not only in the physical and communication realms, but in the psychological realm as well. The same notion applies to the massacre of civilians in Bucha in Ukraine. Jantunen-Paju argued that this was an event in the physical world, and indeed a war crime, but it also had a psychological effect, even though the objective of that atrocity remains unclear. Actions always have more than one effect, and Jantunen-Paju argued it is important to manage those effects, including the psychological ones. 

MP Limnéll opined that there is too much emphasis in the Finnish media on insecurity and gloomy forecasts of a wider conflict. While he cautioned against unbridled optimism, he argued that we should try to highlight positive developments and facts as well. Limnéll pointed out that Finland has been selected as the happiest country in the world by the UN, and that Finnish national security is the strongest it has ever been during the country’s independence, matters that should give Finns cause for justified optimism and pride. 


How to balance freedom and security? 


A member of the audience wondered if various social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok, should be banned, given their prominent role in the dissemination of disinformation that is used in psychological warfare. MP Limnéll emphasized the importance of having trustworthy news sources, such as YLE, in our era of information warfare, while noting how harmful it would be if there were no reliable sources of information. 

Dr. Candolin stated that she was opposed to outright banning social media platforms, given the difficulty in establishing consistent guidelines by which such banning decisions would be made. She also noted that discussions about banning social media platforms place too much emphasis on the negative features of these platforms. Instead of pursuing a path of outlawing such platforms, Candolin advocated for risk management and identification of threats, as well as limited restriction of these platforms in, for instance, the Finnish Parliament.  


How well is Finland secured against the use of ever-evolving AI in warfare? 


A member of the audience raised the issue of artificial intelligence in warfare, and how well-prepared Finland is against the use of AI in military operations. According to MP Limnéll, as technology evolves further, ethical issues will be at the center of discussions about the utilization of technological innovations such as AI. Limnéll raised the transfer of decision-making from humans to AI, and stressed the importance of contemplating the desirability of such a development. He also opined that there is too little discussion in Finnish politics about technology, even though it has an impact on every aspect of politics. Consequently, Limnéll considered it important for everybody to raise technological-ethical issues in public discourse. Dr. Candolin agreed on the importance of considering ethical issues in this area, and compared the reluctance of states to impose restrictions on their cyber operations to reluctance to limit the use of AI for military purposes. 



What is the value of education in protecting ourselves from information warfare? 


A member of the audience asked what value education and media literacy have in terms of safeguarding against information warfare. Dr. Jantunen-Paju stated that in addition to education, we need to consider the importance of motivation and resources in changing behavioral patterns regarding protection from information warfare. People need the motivation to apply their media literacy skills and use the information they have, and the resources (time and money) to do so. According to Jantunen-Paju, we tend to listen to people who have the best resources, who are highly educated and who look “right”. At the same time, regrettably, we dismiss people who do not meet these criteria. Jantunen-Paju also stressed the importance of limiting exposure to protect ourselves from information warfare, highlighting detective AI as a helpful tool in this regard. Jantunen-Paju argued that there are many ways to limit exposure, but we are often unwilling to do so, which may have a detrimental impact on democracy and the society’s ability to function.  



What is the legal basis for responding to a cyber attack with a physical attack? 


A member of the audience asked Dr. Candolin about the legal justification to respond to a cyber attack with a physical attack. Candolin replied that international law regarding the use of armed forces applies to cyber space, and that the Tallinn Manual (a study of how international law applies to cyber warfare) provides a helpful guide to these issues. Candolin also pointed out that various actors, such as NATO, never specify what kind of cyber attacks would surpass a threshold that would warrant a counterattack, out of a concern that adversaries would always operate just below such a threshold. Indeed, NATO always considers such matters on a case-by-case basis, instead of formulating and announcing general rules. 


How is the comprehensive security model to be updated? 


A member of the audience asked MP Limnéll how the current Finnish government is planning to update the comprehensive security model. While stating that he could not go into details, Limnéll revealed that mental resiliency (both on an individual and societal level) is highlighted in the security strategy that is currently being updated. Limnéll argued that we need to promote basic citizen skills to help people maintain and enhance their mental resilience in this era of information and psychological warfare. In this context, Limnéll discussed the importance of sometimes focusing exclusively on the physical world by putting away one’s phone and other electronic devices. Limnéll also remarked that in our current security environment things are likely to get worse before they get better.  


The panelists’ advice for the future generation of security professionals 


To conclude the event, Professor Amadae asked each panelist to give advice or inspiration to the future generation of professionals in the field of security. Dr. Candolin urged everybody to follow their dreams and to be undeterred by naysayers. Dr. Jantunen-Paju emphasized the importance of going beyond one’s comfort zone while pursuing one’s goals. MP Limnéll’s advice was for everyone to find their passion and to follow it.