No fake mobile stations in central Oslo: PST

Norway’s intelligence services have thrown cold water on shock claims that fake mobile base stations have been set up around Norway’s parliament to eavesdrop on politicians’ conversations.

No fake mobile stations in central Oslo: PST
The Stortinget, Norway's parliament. Photo: Stortinget
Both the Police Security Service (PST), which carries out domestic intelligence, and the Norwegian Intelligence Service, which is responsible for military intelligence, on Wednesday said that there was no evidence that IMSI catchers, which mimic mobile phone base stations, are operating in central Oslo. 
PST accused the Aftenposten newspaper, which claimed in December that it had found a series of stations, of reporting “inadequate information based on misinterpretations”. 
“PST’s investigation has not revealed any evidence of IMSI catchers [fake base stations] in the material Aftenposten presented,” PST’s Siv Alsén wrote in a report published on Wednesday. “We are critical of the company that conducted the measurements and wrote the report that uncovered the IMSI catchers.” 
The Norwegian Intelligence Service, backed up PST’s report later in the day, pointing out that as well as having access to Aftenposten’s figures, it also had access to confidential information from telecom operators, allowing it to a better judgement than Aftenposten. 
Aftenposten is refusing to back down on its claims, made last December on the basis of a survey of the area using modified mobile phones designed to identify and avoid fake base stations. 
It said that a new secret report by Delma, a British security firm, sent to PST in March but not referred to in the report PST released on Wednesday, had proven beyond all doubt that IMSi catchers were operating in central Oslo. 
“What we see in the data is pure espionage,” Gordon McKay, Delma’s chief executive, told Aftenposten after carrying out its study. 
The British company would not speculate on who was behind the base station, but told Aftenposten that the way the station behaved reminded him of the Russian-made “White Russian” equipment. 
“To me this looks like an IMSI-catcher,” Karsten Nohl, one of the world’s leading experts on mobile surveillance, told the paper. “It gives a fake area code and the phone is denied service. Other characteristics also fit with our experience with IMSI catchers.”

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Terror, cyber-attacks and espionage: These are the biggest threats to Norway’s security

The threats facing Norway have changed due to political and technological developments. But terrorism and espionage continues to be some of the biggest threats to national security, according to the annual threat assessment.

Terror, cyber-attacks and espionage: These are the biggest threats to Norway’s security
Photo: engin akyurt on Unsplash

The Police Security Service (PST), the Norwegian Intelligence Service (E-tjenesten) and the Norwegian National Security Authority (NSM) on Monday jointly presented their annual assessments of the biggest threats facing state and public security in Norway.

This was the 11th annual joint presentation of the threat assessment. The joint assessment is highly influential in determining Norwegian policy on a range of issues, such as foreign policy, cyber security and terrorism prevention.

“These three jointly form part of the foundation for those who reach decisions that impacts on our security,” said Norway’s Foreign Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen at the press conference in Oslo Monday.

The assessment identified geopolitical tensions, cyber-attacks and terrorism as the biggest immediate threats to Norway’s security.

“We have witnessed rapid technological change,” said the head of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, Nils Andreas Stensønes. “As a consequence, states and non-state actors have increased their room for manoeuvre. This has to also be considered alongside growing great-power rivalry. These are the driving forces behind the threats Norway is facing at the commencement of 2021.”

Terror a significant danger

The threat assessments identify terrorism as a significant public danger in Norway, particularly by violent radical Islamic terror. The threat from the extreme far-right, however, has also increased, and far-right propaganda is gaining traction.

The terrorist threat level in Norway, however, is still considered to be “moderate”.

“This entails that there are groups in Norway that support using violence as a means to threaten Norway and Norwegian society,” said Head of the Police Security Service, Hans Sverre Sjøvold.

“These are groups that we are aware of, and that we will confront with preventive measures,” Sjøvold said.

The assessments, however, also point out that growing discontent with restrictions introduced to combat the Covid-19 pandemic may fuel opposition and potentially lead to terrorist attacks.

Great power rivalry

Norway is a Nato member and close ally to the United States. Yet its position close to Russia and proximity to the Arctic region means the country must balance precariously between its strategic alliances and maintaining friendly neighbourly relations.

“We can see that the great power rivalry continues with unabated strength,” said Bakke-Jensen.

He emphasised that while Russia is of particular concern, China has become an important global actor. Increasingly the country is attempting to promote its foreign and domestic interest on the global stage, openly and in secret.

But as of yet, outright war remains an unlikely scenario. A growing concern is espionage and operations to influence public opinion, such as psychological operations.

“The Norwegian armed force’s defence and foreign policy, the arctic region, Svalbard, the health sector, the energy sector and advanced technology is of great interest to foreign intelligence services,” said Stensønes.

Cyber security

The assessments also point out that cyber-attacks are also one of the main threats facing Norway. The country has this year experienced several attacks, including one against parliament in August last year.

“The cyber-attack against parliament in the fall of 2020 is one of several severe occurrences in recent time that illustrates the threat actors’ capacity and will to assault Norwegian organisation,” the NSM-report states.

Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide has blamed Russia for the attack, allegations that the Russian government denies.

Interlinked threats

Bakke-Jensen also stressed that these threats are complex and interlinked.

“We today face threats that expands across sectors,” Bakke-Jensen said. “State security and public security are increasingly more closely connected.”

He said that this is partly a consequence from Norway being an open and liberal democracy where citizens have a high degree of freedom and face relatively few constraints on rights and behaviours.

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