Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in the United States for an official visit and discussions with President Bush at the weekend, found common ground with the U.S. leader on what proved to be a key issue — the recent hacker attacks on Estonia’s government computer systems. Most of the attacks are thought to have originated in the Russian Federation, and to have been launched with at least tacit Russian government support. From the USINFO report:
“Cyber attack makes us all vulnerable,” Bush said in joint remarks at the White House following their meeting June 25. “I really want to thank you for your leadership, and thank you for your clear understanding of the dangers that that imposes not only on your country, but mine and others as well.”
Ilves thanked the United States for standing by his country‘s quest for independence “even in the darkest of times.”
In the 15 years since regaining its freedom from Soviet occupation, Estonia has built a robust economy with a renowned information technology industry. A majority of its citizens have access to the Internet, where banking, voting and many government services are readily available, leading to a new nickname for the country — “e-Stonia.”
“Estonia is a thriving example of how freedom has transformed the nations of Central and Eastern Europe,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters June 25.
In April, government and commercial servers were hit with a series of attacks by hackers, which Estonian authorities linked to a dispute with neighboring Russia over the recent relocation of a Soviet war memorial from the World War II era in the capital, Tallinn. Moscow firmly has denied any involvement in the incident.
“It is a serious issue if your most important computer systems go down in a country like mine, where 97 percent of bank transactions are done on the Internet,” Ilves said. “When you are a highly Interneted country like we are, then these kinds of attacks can do very serious damage.”
A NATO member since 2004, Estonia received support from computer security experts from the 26-nation alliance who, along with experts from Estonia’s Scandinavian neighbors, helped to contain the hackers.
Ilves proposed establishing a NATO cybersecurity research center in Estonia to build on his country’s experience and help member states safeguard their own computers from future attacks.