Russia admits to Cyber Attack on Estonia

The always brilliant Robert Coalson of Radio Free Europe reports:

In the spring of 2007, a cyberattack on Estonia blocked websites and paralyzed the country’s entire Internet infrastructure. At the peak of the crisis, bank cards and mobile-phone networks were temporarily frozen, setting off alarm bells in the tech-dependent country — and in NATO as well.

The cyberattacks came at a time when Estonia was embroiled in a dispute with Russia over the removal of a Soviet-era war memorial from the center of  Tallinn. Moscow denied any involvement in the attacks, but Estonian officials were convinced of Russia’s involvement in the plot.

A new blog post for Ekho Moskvy makes a startling revelation about the 2007 attacks. The post, by journalist Nargiz Asadova — a columnist for RIA Novosti based in Washington, and an Ekho Moskvy host — describes a March 3 panel discussion between Russian and American experts on information warfare in the 21st century.

Asadova, who was moderating the discussion, asked why Russia is routinely blamed for the cyberattacks in Estonia and Georgia, where government sites were seriously disrupted during the August war.

She might not have been expecting the answer she got from Sergei Markov, a State Duma Deputy from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party: “About the cyberattack on Estonia… don’t worry, that attack was carried out by my assistant. I won’t tell you his name, because then he might not be able to get visas.”

Markov, a political analyst who has long been one of Vladimir Putin’s glibbest defenders, went on to explain that this assistant happened to be in “one of the unrecognized republics” during the dispute with Estonia and had decided on his own that “something bad had to be done to these fascists.” So he went ahead and launched a cyberwar.

“Turns out it was purely a reaction from civil society,” Markov reportedly said, adding ominously, “and, incidentally, such things will happen more and more.”

In Russia, Markov’s confession is all over the blogosphere, but has yet to be picked up by the Russian media.

Estonian Defense Ministry officials, meanwhile, have reiterated their certainty that Russia was behind the cyberattack, but played down Markov’s claims, saying the 2007 incident was a highly coordinated campaign that could not be the work of a single mischievous hacker.

Still, Asadova notes that Markov — as a member of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe — should know that his assistant could face a lot more trouble than just problems getting a visa to vacation in Cannes. Turns out that taking down government sites in Estonia is a crime.

11 responses to “Russia admits to Cyber Attack on Estonia

  1. The USA and NATO must stand by these eastern European countries. They are helpless against Russia. It would be very simple for the rest of the world to isolate Russia. Perhaps its time for Europe and the US to construct our own wall. With the consent of the eastern European counties…. a wall around Russia. Cage them like the animals they are.

  2. Calling Markov a “Putin’s defender” is like calling Alfred Rosenberg “Hitler’s defender”.

  3. Good idea. ;)

    As a neighbor of Russia I am even willing to give away my very personal 100USD$ for such a project.

    I bet I am not alone in this. Private fundrising across Europe alone would suffice to do it..

  4. We could hang a sign saying “quarantine” at the fence.

  5. “The unnamed assistant is likely to be Konstantin Goloskokov, commissar of the “Nashi” Youth Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement in Moldova and Transnistria, who already admitted to orchestrating the attack and was subsequently banned in 27 countries. In this case, the “unrecognized republic” that Markov spoke of would be Transnistria, a self-governing, separatist region in the Republic of Moldova.”

  6. the cyber attacks backfired badly to russia, whether the government organized them or not. Because now there’s a NATO cyberdefence centre in the Estonian capital – A country that is the final frontier of NATO (Until Finland, Ukraine and/or Georgia join), in a city that is just 323 km or 200 miles from St. Petersburg.

    Not that the distances matter in cyberwar, but it’s gotta irk Russia that there’s now a NATO structure that is strategically extremely important so close to their borders. Might not be a missile defence system but…

  7. But this line of reasoning goes against the original claim against Russia, which was that the cyberattacks supposedly originated from Kremlin computers. Markov is saying something completely different. Bottom line: nothing Markov says can be trusted, and we’ll never find out who was behind the attacks, but we will find out what partisan hacks on both sides of the debate think they know for sure.

  8. > Billy Bob

    The fact that Markov’s assistant coordinated attack does not exclude cyberattacks originating from Kremlin computers.

    After all, that “assistant” of Markov’s is a middle level manager in NASHI organization – organization, which is actively backed by Kremlin itself, so it would not be a surprise whatsoever, that some of attacks, yes indeed, would come from Kremlin computers.

    It is the same whole happy family!

    Don’ t get distracted by the fact that the “assistant” was told to be in a different place. This does not matter in cyberspace. And, of course, he did not work alone.

    P.S. This NASHI organization has been compared to Hitler Jugend, but in some ways it reminds of SA stormtroopers of Nazi early days.

  9. It has recently been alleged that the founder and leader of the organization, known as ‘Flyman’, is related to a powerful and well-connected Russian politician.[14] In light of this, it is entirely possible that recent cyber-terrorism activities, such as the denial of service attacks on Estonia in May 2007[15] and on Georgia and Azerbaijan in August 2008[16], may have been co-ordinated by or out-sourced to such an organization. Although this is currently unproven, intelligence estimates suggest this may be the case.[17] (yes, quite an apt name considering what most of the “Russian business” is like)

  10. maybenot,

    The Sturmabteilung were mostly hardened war veterans of first the trenches and then the Freikorps. Nashi are mostly kids.

  11. Robert,

    You are right.

    It actually is more like Hitler Jugend, though with extended capabilities.

    Book burning they did and their actions of intimidation reminded me of SA.

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