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NATO Enters Estonia-Russia Cyber Battleground

By Katherine Noyes
May 18, 2007 2:37 PM PT

After three weeks of coordinated cyberattacks on Estonian Web sites, NATO has reportedly sent an official to the country to help investigate.

NATO Enters Estonia-Russia Cyber Battleground

About 1 million computers worldwide were reportedly used to conduct the denial-of-service attacks on Estonian government and corporate Web sites, swamping them with so much traffic they were forced to shut down. Traffic has finally begun to taper off this week.

The attacks began on April 27, the day the Baltic country removed a Soviet-era war memorial from Tallinn, its capital. Russia has reacted bitterly to the removal, and many have speculated that Moscow was behind the attacks on Estonia.

'Not Sufficient Evidence'

The Estonian government has traced much of the attacking traffic to Russian computers, the government said, and has reportedly also found instructions in Russian on the Internet on how to carry out the attack. However, it stops short of blaming Moscow directly.

"We identified in the initial attacks IP numbers from the Russian governmental offices," Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo told The Associated Press. "There is not sufficient evidence of a governmental role, but it indicates a possibility."

The Russian government has reportedly denied any involvement.

So far, Estonian police have charged only one Estonian man with promoting the attacks in online forums.

A National Threat

Estonia established independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and has since become a member of both NATO and the European Union. Earlier this year, it became the first country to allow online voting in a parliamentary election.

Regardless of the source, the Estonian government does consider the attacks a threat to national security, Aaviksoo told the AP.

Many have begun to question whether a large-scale Internet attack of this type should be considered an act of war and, if so, what the appropriate response should be.

'No End in Sight'

"If a bank or an airport is hit by a missile, it is easy to say that is an act of war," said Defense Ministry spokesperson Madis Mikko.

"But if the same result is caused by a cyberattack, what do you call that?" he added.

"I doubt Russia was behind this -- more likely it's a Russian hacker, feeling patriotic but without government sponsorship," Johannes Ullrich, chief technology officer at Internet security firm the SANS Institute, told TechNewsWorld.

"These types of attacks happen all the time, and companies can go out of business because of them," Ullrich added. "The fundamental problem is that there are literally millions of home PCs out there being used to conduct them. There's really no end in sight on how to solve the problem."

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