April 2, 2008
Almost a year after falling victim to a "cyber-war" blamed on Russian
hackers, the Baltic state of Estonia is now piloting NATO's efforts to
ward off future online attacks on alliance members.
After this week's NATO's summit in Romania, Estonia and seven other
alliance partners will set up the "Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence"
in Tallinn next month.
The United States, Germany, Italy, Spain and Estonia's fellow
ex-communist NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia will
spearhead the project.
The goal, officials say, is to keep the 26-nation North Atlantic Treaty
Organisation ahead of the game in the face of the threat of crippling
"Globally, cyber-crimes and the number of criminals involved in
cyber-crimes is growing very fast," said Hillar Aarelaid, the head of
Estonia's national anti-hacking task force, who was on the front line of
the virtual battle in April and May 2007.
The centre is due to open officially in 2009, but is already starting
work informally, said Johannes Kert, who commanded the Estonian military
Kert, who is now a defence ministry adviser, will be Estonia's
representative of the centre's governing board, which is due to meet for
the first time in June.
He told AFP that the centre's main goals include improving
"cyber-defence interoperability" within NATO, boosting international
cooperation and legal mechanisms for cyber-defence, as well as helping
draw up an alliance-wide cyber-defence doctrine.
It will also provide training, assess threats and steer research
projects, he said.
It will have a staff of 30 -- half of them IT experts -- seconded from
and paid by the participating countries.
The choice of Estonia is no accident: besides having first-hand
experience of a cyber-war, the country is home to a flourishing hi-tech
industry which has earned it the nickname "E-stonia".
In late April and early May last year, a flood of attacks forced the
temporary closure of Estonian government websites and disrupted leading
businesses in what is one of the world's most wired economies.
While Estonia has prosecuted several young ethnic-Russian hackers based
in the country, most of the cyber-soldiers were believed to be operating
from Russia itself, out of reach of Estonian justice.
The attacks came after Estonian authorities decided to shift a
Soviet-era monument from central Tallinn to a military cemetery. The
move was marked by riots in the capital on April 26-28.
For Moscow and many among Estonia's Russian minority -- which makes up
around a quarter of the population of 1.3 million -- moving the
so-called Bronze Soldier was an affront to the memory of Soviet troops
who fought the Nazis during World War II.
For many Estonians however, the statue was also a symbol of almost five
decades of post-war Soviet occupation which ended only in 1991 as the
communist bloc collapsed.
The site had become a flashpoint between Estonian activists and Russians
marking Soviet-era anniversaries.
After the move, relations between Moscow and Tallinn plunged to their
lowest ebb since Estonia regained its independence.
The Estonian government has said that even Kremlin computers were used
to carry out a number of the attacks on servers in the Baltic country.
Moscow denied any involvement in the online assault, but Estonian
investigators have accused Russia of hindering their probe.
"You can't bring all war criminals to trial, so it's no wonder that
cyber-war criminals have not been brought to trial either," said
"But the hackers also gave us something valuable -- a warning lesson
that we learned well and are now sharing with our allies," he added.
Copyright 2008 AFP
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