Cyberattacks in the present tense, Estonian says

Coordinated cyberattacks by and against nation states no longer is an abstract possibility, an Estonian official said Wednesday.

'In Estonia, it was not an imaginary but a real threat that we experienced a few months ago, Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo said in a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Over three days in late April and early May, Estonia suffered online denial-of-service attacks against its information infrastructure, during which Aaviksoo said the level of coordination, volume of online traffic and political motivation reached the level of a national threat.

'For the time being, there is no solid evidence we can see for placing the blame for these attacks,' he said. But it appeared to be coordinated with what Aaviksoo called other events that appeared to be funded by diplomatic representatives of 'our big neighbor.'

He did not mention Russia by name, but the attacks appeared to be part of a dispute between Estonia and Russia over the move of a Soviet-era war memorial.

The attacks appear to have been carried out by as many as 1 million computers in 50 countries worldwide, apparently from rented botnets, networks of compromised computers coordinated for criminal purposes. Targets were government Web sites and portals, financial institutions, and news outlets.

The aim of the attacks seemed to be psychological impact rather than damage to physical infrastructure, and Aaviksoo characterized them as cyberterrorism rather than cyberwarfare. But the possibility of full-fledged cyberwar must be faced, he said.

'It is imminent that future development will see warfare in this newly born cyberspace,' he said. 'The probability of that is rising over time.'

He called for a broad, multilateral effort by Europe and its allies to defend against cyberattacks, with cooperation between public and private sectors and among countries.

'The problem resolves itself to a risk-management exercise,' he said. 'Minimizing risk always brings with it certain burdens,' which will have to be shared by government, the private sector and the public.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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