Two years on, Estonia hardens its electronic defenses

The country is focusing on education as well as identifying its critical information infrastructure

Although the electronic attacks against Estonia are two years in the past, the small Baltic nation is still hardening its defenses.

Last fall, the Estonian Ministry of Defense published a 36-page strategy that describes the cyber threat landscape as well as legal and educational principles that will guide the nation.

"There's going to be a bigger push in terms of better identifying and better defending the critical information infrastructure of Estonia," said Rain Ottis, a scientist with the Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, which was established last year in Tallinn. "We are better defended than we were."

Even though Estonia is considered one of the most wired nations in Europe as well as being the birthplace of the popular Internet telephony application Skype, it was caught flatfooted in April and May 2007.

Denial-of-service attacks knocked down the Web sites of banks, government agencies and media sites as well as nearly any other Web site ending in ".ee," or the country-code top level domain for Estonia, Ottis said.

Estonia responded in part by shutting down Internet traffic coming from outside the country, Ottis said. As the attacks continued, Estonia was aided by the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, which helped coordinate efforts to choke off hacked computers in the U.S. that were directing malicious traffic to Estonia, he said.

The impetus for the attacks appeared to be people who objected to the removal of a statue commemorating the Russian effort in World War II from a public square.

It was believed pro-Russian activists were responsible; the Russian government officially denied any connection.

Since the attacks, Estonia has also concentrated on educational efforts on cybersecurity, Ottis said. The Tallinn Institute of Technology is now offering a master's degree program in cybersecurity. Other ongoing efforts include media outreach.

Still, as time goes by, newer, more current problems have taken away some of the urgency around bolstering cybersecurity.

"Let's be honest -- the biggest problem for the government of Estonia and for most governments in the world today is not the cyber threat, it's the economy," Ottis said. "Currently cyber is not the prime topic it was two years ago."

But the attacks of 2007 did show leaders the impact of cyberwarfare.

"Hopefully nothing will happen again, but if it were, the decision makers should be able to move faster," Ottis said.

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