Estonia says it withstood a cyberattack from hackers linked to Russia


Estonia said it successfully withstood a major cyberattack launched by Russia-aligned hackers who tried to take down the websites of government offices, banks and healthcare providers in the Baltic nation.

Wednesday’s cyberattack came as NATO member Estonia relocated part of a Soviet-era World War II monument into a museum, an effort that generated controversy in a nation with a sizable ethnic Russian population. But the raids, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which involve hackers trying to flood websites with more users than the sites can handle, were unsuccessful. “With a few brief and minor exceptions, the websites remained fully available throughout the day,” said Luukas Ilves, government information director.

Estonia is one of the main centers of software development in Europe. The republic of 1.3 million, which regained its independence in 1991 after decades of Moscow rule, is also one of Ukraine’s strongest supporters against Russian invasion. Estonia has provided, on a per capita basismore military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine than to any other country.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas nicknamed the “Iron Lady” of Europe for its refusal to compromise with the Kremlin on Ukraine, it is also a world leader in effort to deepen Western sanctions against Moscow.

Killnet, a pro-Russian hacker group, reclaimed responsibility for the attacks through its Telegram channel. He said that he had tried to cut off access to hundreds of websites in sectors such as finance, health care, education, government services and public services. In June, Killnet also tried to overwhelm Lithuanian public service websites after that country started enforcing EU sanctions on a Russian enclave. Lithuanian officials said a cyberattack had undermined access to more than 130 websites that month.

Robert Potter, co-founder and CEO of Internet 2.0, an Australian cybersecurity firm, said this week’s attack on Estonia was a short-term, high-intensity campaign, and such efforts are “generally less sophisticated.”

“Adversaries trade accuracy for scale. As a result, these attacks are best interpreted as messages rather than campaigns designed to destroy,” she said.

In 2007, Estonia suffered a huge cyber attack by hackers suspected of having ties to the Kremlin. Hackers crippled email servers and forced a major bank to stop its online services for more than an hour. Many Estonian websites were forced to temporarily isolate themselves from the rest of the world, in what was the earliest known example of a major nation-to-nation cyberattack. Those attacks also came after Estonia relocated a World War II monument from the Soviet era. Moscow denied involvement.

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The 2007 bombings galvanized the small Baltic country to improve its cybersecurity infrastructure, making it better prepared for the latest attack. Estonia has a voluntary civilian cyber defense league and hosts an annual NATO-led cybersecurity training operation, the largest such exercise in the world. Microsoft also ranks the country highly in its Digital Futures Index, which measures factors such as e-government capabilities and digital infrastructure sophistication.

“Although subject to the most extensive cyberattacks, [Estonia] is stronger than we were in 2007”, Kallas tweeted on Twitter on Thursday.

This week, Estonia removed a World War II-era Soviet T-34 tank from a monument near the Russian border. The authorities said that modern Russian tanks were now being used to kill innocent people in Ukraine.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has “opened the wounds in our society that these communist monuments remind us of”, Kallas said recently.

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