Cyber war: Russia attacks Estonia?

posted at 8:00 am on May 17, 2007 by Bryan

Estonia decided to remove a Soviet-era monument from its capital city. Putin apparently wasn’t amused.

While Russia and Estonia are embroiled in their worst dispute since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a row that erupted at the end of last month over the Estonians’ removal of the Bronze Soldier Soviet war memorial in central Tallinn, the country has been subjected to a barrage of cyber warfare, disabling the websites of government ministries, political parties, newspapers, banks, and companies.

Nato has dispatched some of its top cyber-terrorism experts to Tallinn to investigate and to help the Estonians beef up their electronic defences.

“This is an operational security issue, something we’re taking very seriously,” said an official at Nato headquarters in Brussels. “It goes to the heart of the alliance’s modus operandi.”

Because it’s not an actual armed attack and because Russia hasn’t been definitively linked to the cyber attacks yet (though it’s a near certainty that Russia is behind it), this doesn’t invoke Article V of the NATO treaty, in which an attack on one is treated as an attack on all. But NATO is in the game and the Estonians aren’t laying down.

With their reputation for electronic prowess, the Estonians have been quick to marshal their defences, mainly by closing down the sites under attack to foreign internet addresses, in order to try to keep them accessible to domestic users.

The cyber-attacks were clearly prompted by the Estonians’ relocation of the Soviet second world war memorial on April 27.

Ethnic Russians staged protests against the removal, during which 1,300 people were arrested, 100 people were injured, and one person was killed.

The crisis unleashed a wave of so-called DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service, attacks, where websites are suddenly swamped by tens of thousands of visits, jamming and disabling them by overcrowding the bandwidths for the servers running the sites. The attacks have been pouring in from all over the world, but Estonian officials and computer security experts say that, particularly in the early phase, some attackers were identified by their internet addresses – many of which were Russian, and some of which were from Russian state institutions.

“The cyber-attacks are from Russia. There is no question. It’s political,” said Merit Kopli, editor of Postimees, one of the two main newspapers in Estonia, whose website has been targeted and has been inaccessible to international visitors for a week. It was still unavailable last night.

We’re not in a new Cold War with Russia yet, at least according to our own Secretary of State, but if Russia is behind the first state-on-state cyber war, and if as it seems to be that Russia was behind the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, and it’s obvious that Russia is playing a deep game with respect to its involvement in Iran’s nuclear program, and as Russia has been playing hardball with former satellites Ukraine and Georgia, we will be in a new Cold War with Russia soon. Under Putin, Russia appears to be going in the direction of rogue state.

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Estonia decided to remove a Soviet-era monument from its capital city.

Oh, the horror! I don’t think we should be in a new cold war, in the same sense. Someone should just cyberattack them back. I’m sure you tell a few hackers here, that they have permission to declare all out cyberwar on Russia, they’d have Russia’s systems down in a few hours.

amerpundit on May 17, 2007 at 8:25 AM

We’re not in a new Cold War with Russia yet

That always makes me laugh. It’s like the “rivalry” between Ithaca and Cornell, only one school knows about it.

Russia couldn’t compete with us when they were a globe-bestriding empire, now, they’re heading toward client state of China status.
Sure Russia has nukes, but they’re all at least 20 years old and were probably no more than 80% reliable 20 years ago.


Veeshir on May 17, 2007 at 8:42 AM

Russia never threatened anyone. Why don’t you leave the Old Bear alone?

Niko on May 17, 2007 at 8:43 AM


Veeshir on May 17, 2007 at 8:42 AM

Is this what we call complacency?

– The Cat

MirCat on May 17, 2007 at 8:59 AM

As an old “Cold Warrior” I remember all the Soviet sponsored terror groups fighting a war by proxy against the west. If you’re not old enough to remember what that looked like …. it’s pretty much just like today.

Buzzy on May 17, 2007 at 9:14 AM

‘Pooty-Poot’ showing his true colors is he ?

DoctorDentons on May 17, 2007 at 9:22 AM

Patton was right.

Hening on May 17, 2007 at 9:41 AM

Veeshir on May 17, 2007 at 8:42 AM

Were you alive back then? If so, you sure weren’t paying attention.

Russia’s command-and-control government isn’t good for their people, but it is very good at sticking to important tasks like weapons development, military recruitment, and espionage. Their intellectual and military class is as good as anyone we have, with the added benefit of being able to stick to a mission longer than our short-attention-span political culture allows.

Ditto for the Chinese.

I don’t want Russia as a sworn enemy again. I can deal with them behaving like a cranky, hung-over version of France. But if Putin wants to oppose us, we really can’t dismiss the challenge or pretend they are not a formidable threat.

Anton on May 17, 2007 at 10:20 AM

Patton was right.

Hening on May 17, 2007 at 9:41 AM

Unfortunately FDR and Truman’s entire Administrations were linked to working with the Soviets.

Tim Burton on May 17, 2007 at 10:32 AM

Test run, and proof of concept.

If they can seriously damage the ability to do business in Estonia, then they can threaten other states. Its another form of blackmail.

Many of us in the industry have seen this coming for quite some time, going to be interesting to see how this turns out.

Romeo13 on May 17, 2007 at 10:37 AM

The problem here is whether or not these attacks are actually coming from Russian government…as in sanctioned by.

The Russian Mafia(across and down the hall from the “government” offices) have become insanely good at controlling botnets for fun and profit. That is probably where the “attacks from all over the world” thing is coming from. That makes it alittle…only alittle…difficult to nail down the control node for the botnet. It’s certainly doable but it will probably take some time and some careful Statecraft as the network traffic will probably cross a couple of unfriendly borders.

I think it is certianly time for NATO to look at what constitutes an attack on a member. It’s a different world now and a coordinated attack on cyber infrastructure is just as critical as a column of tanks rolling through a capital…perhaps more so.

Pilgrim on May 17, 2007 at 10:48 AM

Not sure what to think about this. Part of is intrigued and concerned about this, part of me isn’t concerned. I mean Russia vs. Estonia in a cyberwar? Maybe I’m just prejudiced, but I have visions of Putin trying to hack into an Estonian database with a Commodore 64.

vcferlita on May 17, 2007 at 12:58 PM

Russia couldn’t compete with us when they were a globe-bestriding empire, now, they’re heading toward client state of China status. … Yawn.

Veeshir on May 17, 2007 at 8:42 AM

Which may – I emphasize may – be one of the reasons why Bryan referred to Russia becoming a “rogue state” and not a “rival superpower”.

For all of the reasons Anton mentioned, that is a big deal. Most of our past & lingering problems came from the KGB wing of the regime, not from 20,000 warheads or a million men under arms in Eastern Europe.

RD on May 17, 2007 at 1:38 PM

So, let’s review:

1. Cyber attack on a former Soviet vassal republic (Estonia)
2. Interference in Ukranian elections
3. Cutting off energy supplies to Georgia (the republic, not the state)
4. Prime suspect in murder of journalists
5. Prime suspect in murder of dissidents such as Alexander Litvinenko
6. Forced liquidation and sale of Russian corporations to friends of Mr. Putin
7. Elimination of opposition press
8. Pressure on potential electoral opponents of Putin favourites to drop out of elections.

There’s more, but that’s enough to make the point.

The point is not that Russia is backsliding into authoritarianism…that’s self-evident.

This is about the G-8 countries. Membership in this group is supposed to be characterized not only by economic advancement, but by commitment to democratic ideals. Whether or not post-Soviet Russia was ever committed to such ideals, I don’t know. I am sure however, that if any such commitment ever existed it has been long since abandoned.

Accordingly, when are out gutless leaders going to call a spapde a spade and tell Russia to get out of the G-8, and come back when they are ready to act like a civilized member of the community of nations?

Blaise on May 17, 2007 at 1:39 PM

It’s not Russia’s fault. Bush and Cheney, backed by their borscht buddies, are just looking for trouble with Russia in order to take over their borscht factories.

dalewalt on May 17, 2007 at 1:41 PM

Austria had a similar bogus monument to ostensible Soviet “liberation” constructed, negotiated by treaty. In 1955, prior to the founding of the 2nd Republic, two consditions were laid down by the Soviets: first, that Austria remain politically neutral in perpetuity (especially so in a contest between West & East); second, they accept the building of a schlocky monument to so-called “liberation” (from the Americans, who were rushing eastward in 1945 in order to try & prevent this very situation from happening).

Don’t know if the monument still stands in Vienna, at the Schwarzenbergplatz, or not… if so, time to take it down!

RD on May 17, 2007 at 1:53 PM

RD, it’s still there. This write-up is pretty good. Scroll down, for it and picture.

You can’t help but marvel at the sculptural power but you can understand why the locals weren’t chuffed to discover that their 1945 ‘saviours’ were the Red Army. That is like jumping free of the gallows and falling into a pit full of crocodiles….and that particular crocodile pit wasn’t drained until the Russian Zone ended in 1955. Still worth a look though, as it was a ‘gift’ from the Russian people…I think I’d have preferred socks!

Russia is already a rogue state.

Blaise, great list. Major item to add, Iran (mentioned by Bryan).

I’d add what we don’t know about – their deals with Venezuela, China, Bolivia, Nicaragua, etc.

Entelechy on May 17, 2007 at 2:53 PM

Sorry, messed up the link, for above. Trying again.

Entelechy on May 17, 2007 at 2:55 PM

It’s not Russia’s fault. Bush and Cheney, backed by their borscht buddies, are just looking for trouble with Russia in order to take over their borscht factories.

dalewalt on May 17, 2007 at 1:41 PM

Yes… the acclaimed firm Halliborschton.

Right on, Blaise! Also would make an excellent presidential debate question.

Thank you Entelechy for the link, the update & the zinger! And I don’t for a moment take at face value what is happening in the former Venezuela or the former Bolivia…

RD on May 19, 2007 at 7:53 PM