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.