Cyber War?

It’s gotten rather little attention over here but for the last three weeks corporate and government networks in Estonia have been subject to a paralyzing series of denial-of-service attacks. Could Russian and Estonia be engaged in a cyber war?

President Putin has been accused of waging cyber war against Estonia in a dispute that threatens a new confrontation between Russia and Nato. The issue is expected to be raised at today’s EU-Russia summit.

Estonia said that its websites and computer systems had come under massive “cyber attack” after the dispute with Moscow over the removal of a Second World War monument to the Red Army in the capital, Tallinn.

Urmas Paet, the Foreign Minister, in an interview with The Times, accused the Kremlin of direct involvement in efforts to disrupt the Estonia Government and economy. Targets have included the websites of Estonia’s President and parliament and most government ministries and political parties.

Banks, mobile phone networks and news organisations have also been hit. Estonia’s second-biggest bank, the Swedish-owned SEB Eesti Uhispank, was forced to block access to its online services from outside the country after its computers came under attack on Tuesday.

The cyber attacks involved “bombing” websites with tens of thousands of visits with the intention of overloading their servers and forcing the computers to crash. Experts traced the internet protocol (IP) addresses that identify individual computers back to systems used by Russian authorities.

“When there are attacks coming from official IP addresses of Russian authorities and they are attacking not only our websites but our mobile phone network and our rescue service network, then it is very dangerous.” Mr Paet said.

NATO has become involved:

The unprecedented computer attacks have brought cyber-terrorism experts from Nato to Estonia, anxious about the implications for operational security. Estonia is a member of the military alliance and Jaak Aaviksoo, the Defence Minister, has raised the issue with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Nato Secretary-General.

It will be discussed at a Nato defence ministers meeting in Brussels next month. Mr de Hoop Scheffer said: “Recent events have shown that no member state is protected from cyber attacks.”

I said it before about the pet food recall and I’ll say it again here: this should be treated as an opportunity. Whether this is actually an attack by one state against another, it’s an unparalleled opportunity to war-game a cyber attack. We should be jumping all over this, evaluating the response of the Estonian government to the attacks.

I actually think there’s a rather innocent explanation for some of the attacks being attributable to Russian government IP addresses. If the Russian government is anything like ours, it’s probably somewhat technologically backward (at least in some departments). Government computers may have been dragooned into the DoS attack by malware of some sort.

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