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Cyber-Warfare Waged on Estonia By Russia?

Cyber-warfare consisting of netwar attacks on the Estonian presidency, parliament and government ministries is being waged against Estonia. It appears that the attacks were prompted by the relocation of a Soviet WWII memorial in late April.

"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.

However, officials of both NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the European Union (EU) are slow to point fingers. If it turns out that Russia is really behind the attacks, it would be the first proven case of one country using cyber-attacks to disrupt another country.

"If you are implying [the attacks] came from Russia or the Russian government, it's a serious allegation that has to be substantiated. Cyber-space is everywhere," said Russia's ambassador in Brussels, Vladimir Chizhov.


(Estonian Parliament building)

Is cyber-warfare the equivalent of a military or terrorist attack? NATO and EU officials are concerned, because this is a gray area in international treaties, like the ones that hold NATO together.

"At present, Nato does not define cyber-attacks as a clear military action. This means that the provisions of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, or, in other words collective self-defence, will not automatically be extended to the attacked country," said the Estonian defence minister, Jaak Aaviksoo.

The attacks consisted of a coordinated series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks first from computers in Russia, and then from around the world. DDoS simply means that a large number of computers issue thousands of bogus requests for information from a targeted server; the server goes down under the onslaught, unable to handle the many simultaneous requests.

Tech-savvy Estonians quickly took evasive action, refusing access by computers with foreign IP addresses. NATO has also sent cyber-terrorism experts to help shore up defenses.

My first introduction to the topic of netwar or cyber-warfare was in the 1975 science fiction novel The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner. Individuals unleash cyber-attacks on other individuals (see the article on computer worm - a term coined by Brunner); plans are made to take down the datanet in the event of enemy invasion (see the article for Electric Skillet).

Writer Bruce Sterling, in his 1998 novel Distraction, deals specifically with netwar:

"Hey," the officer said proudly. "I was in Second Panama. That was classic netwar! We took down the local regime just by screwing with their bitstreams. No fatalities! Never a shot fired!"
(Read more about netwar)

What is America doing about this? Read a bit about CIA cyberwargames. Via Guardian Unlimited.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/19/2007)

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