Estonia says it withstood cyberattack by Russia-linked hackers


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

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

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

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, dubbed Europe’s “Iron Lady” for her refusal to compromise with the Kremlin over Ukraine, is also a global leader in the effort to deepen Western sanctions against Moscow.

Killnet, a pro-Russian hacking group, claimed responsibility for the attacks via its Telegram channel. It said it had tried to cut off access to hundreds of websites in sectors such as finance, health care, education, government services and utilities. In June, Killnet also sought to overwhelm Lithuanian public services websites after that country began enforcing E.U. sanctions on a Russian exclave. Lithuanian officials said that a cyberattack had undermined access to more than 130 websites that month.

Robert Potter, co-founder and chief executive of Internet 2.0, an Australian cybersecurity firm, said this week’s attack against Estonia was a high-intensity and short-term campaign, and that such efforts are “generally lower in sophistication.”

“Adversaries trade precision for scale. As a result, it’s best to interpret these attacks as messaging rather than campaigns designed to destroy,” he said.

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

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The 2007 attacks galvanized the small Baltic country into enhancing its cybersecurity infrastructure, making it better prepared for the latest strike. Estonia has a voluntary civilian cyberdefense league and hosts an annual NATO-led cybersecurity training operation, the largest such exercise in the world. Microsoft also ranks the country highly on its Digital Futures Index, which measures factors such as e-governance capabilities and the sophistication of digital infrastructure.

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

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

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has “torn open the wounds in our society that these communist monuments remind us of,” Kallas recently said.

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