Top Estonian officials accused Russian authorities on Thursday (May 17th) of involvement in cyberattacks that have hit the country, amid a dispute with Moscow over the removal of a World War II monument in Tallinn late last month.
“We identified in the initial attacks IP numbers from the Russian governmental offices,” Estonian Defence Minister Jaak Aaviksoo told the AP. “There is not sufficient evidence of a governmental role, but it indicates a possibility.”
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet also pointed a finger at Moscow.
“When there are attacks coming from official (IP) addresses of Russian authorities and they are attacking not only our websites but our mobile phone network and our rescue service network, then it is already very dangerous,” he told The Times.
Russia rejects the accusations. “It is out of the question that any Russian bodies could be involved in such attacks,” Bloomberg news agency quoted President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as saying on Thursday.
At least one million computers reportedly were used in the cyber offensive against Estonian government, banking and media websites over the past three weeks, prompting their temporary closure. With its well-established system of electronic government and web-based banking, the Baltic republic is said to be highly advanced in its internet use.
The damages it has suffered as a result of the unprecedented wave of cyber attacks are estimated to run into tens of millions of euros, The Guardian reported on Friday.
The so-called denial-of-service attacks against Estonian websites began shortly after authorities moved a Bronze Soldier statue, commemorating Red Army soldiers killed during World War II, from Tallinn’s centre to a cemetery outside the capital on April 27th.
The move sparked protests by ethnic Russians. One person was killed and more than 150 injured. Young Pro-Kremlin activists then blockaded the Estonian embassy in Moscow and allegedly tried to rough up the country’s ambassador at a news conference.
Estonia, an EU and NATO member since 2004, has called on both organisations to consider measures for responding to cyberattacks. It has also asked Brussels to raise the issue during the EU-Russia summit in Samara on Friday.
“This is a kind of terrorism,” Mikhel Tammet, head of Estonia’s cyberdefence co-ordination committee, was quoted as saying. “The act of terrorism is not to steal from a state, or even to conquer it. It is, as the word suggests, to sow terror itself â€¦ The EU and NATO have to work out their doctrines and position on these kinds of attacks and how to deal with them.”
NATO has already sent a cyber-terrorism expert to Tallinn to examine the problem.
“This is serious because much of the business of the country is done electronically,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai told Bloomberg news agency by telephone on Thursday. “Because it’s serious for Estonia, it’s serious for NATO.”
The issue is expected to be discussed during a meeting of the Alliance’s defence ministers in Brussels next month.
Meanwhile, US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte warned on Thursday that cyber attacks like the one launched against Estonia would increase.
“We need to prepare ourselves because this is likely only to become more of an issue in the future,” he told the Financial Times. Cyberterrorism is becoming an issue of growing concern “as familiarity with these technologies grows and more and more actors get involved in information technology”, he added.