HELSINKI Finland's foreign minister said on Thursday foreign intelligence agents had carried out large-scale hacking into government communications, and a Finnish TV station said China and Russia were suspected.
Erkki Tuomioja said the breach of the Foreign Ministry's data network was discovered in spring, and Finland's intelligence service was investigating it as a case of serious espionage.
"I can confirm there has been a severe and large hacking in the ministry's data network," he told reporters on Thursday in a hastily-arranged news conference after private broadcaster MTV3 reported the hacking incident.
He declined to comment on suspects. MTV3 had earlier said, citing unidentified sources, that Chinese and Russian intelligence agents may have been involved.
The report said they had gained access to its network for years and seem to have targeted communications between Finnish and European Union officials. Tuomioja said there was no exposure of the most highly classified information.
The report comes amid a global outcry over allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency collected data on millions of phone calls in Europe and snooped on leaders of major U.S. allies including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The United States and other Western countries have often accused Russia and China of hacking into their computer networks, targeting both companies and government departments. Beijing and Moscow deny direct involvement in hacking.
Finland's Baltic neighbor Estonia blamed Russia when its Internet network was paralyzed by an electronic attack in 2007. Unlike Estonia, Finland is not a member of NATO but cooperates extensively with the Western defense alliance.
(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando and Jussi Rosendahl; editing by Andrew Roche)