Estonia Survives Internet`s First Cyberwar
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The battle fought in April and May this year employed not tanks or planes, but botnets and script kiddies. It nearly brought Estonia to its knees. We can learn a number of lessons from what Wired
has referred to as “Web War One.” Could it happen here?
The triggering event happened on April 27. That's when the Estonian government moved a six-foot-tall statue named the Bronze Soldier from its prominent place in downtown Tallinn, the country’s capital, to a more remote cemetery. The statue commemorated the lives lost by the Soviet army when it drove the Nazis out of Estonia at the end of World War II. After the war, the USSR settled into Estonia for a 50-year-long oppressive regime during which a tenth of the country’s population was deported to a gulag. Nevertheless, many Russian-speaking Estonians see the statue as an important, positive symbol.
The Estonians took great care when moving the statue; they even identified the unknown soldiers of the Red Army that made up part of the memorial. That didn’t prevent the Russian government (and only the Russian government) from protesting the relocation of the statue. It also didn’t prevent two days of rioting in Estonia that left 100 people injured and one person dead.
Those cleaning up after the real world riots found that the fight wasn’t over; it had merely shifted its front. Russian language chat rooms were enlisting script kiddies into a cyber army to punish Estonia for the intolerable affront of moving the memorial. After whipping readers to a fever pitch with words, many posts called them to action: “You do not agree with the policy of eSStonia??? May think you have no influence on the situation??? You CAN have it on the Internet!” read one post, according to Wired. These posts included precise instructions for launching ping attacks on specific Estonian sites.
Estonia is not a third-world country, especially when it comes to the Internet. Its 1.3 million people conduct more than 90 percent of their bank transactions online. About 40 percent read an online newspaper every day. The nation is the first one in the world to embrace online voting. Cell phones are often used for such basic activities as paying for parking or buying meals in restaurants. Popular voice over IP company Skype is headquartered in Tallinn. Free Wi-Fi is widely available. Indeed, Estonia’s parliament passed a law in 2000 declaring Internet access a basic human right. So looking at what happened in Estonia can tell us how wars may be fought in the future.
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