Estonia has been under assault:
When Estonian authorities began removing a bronze statue of a World War II-era Soviet soldier from a park in this bustling Baltic seaport last month, they expected violent street protests by Estonians of Russian descent.
What followed was what some here describe as the first war in cyberspace, a monthlong campaign that has forced Estonian authorities to defend their pint-size Baltic nation from a data flood that they say was set off by orders from Russia or ethnic Russian sources in retaliation for the removal of the statue.
This has been interesting for a few reasons. On the geopolitical stage this seems to be yet another demonstration by Russia that it is still willing and capable to throw its weight around in the near abroad, without much apparent concern for international opinion. The Estonians and some neutral observers are convinced that the attacks are state orchestrated, although it should be noted that especially in a situation as emotionally packed as this (the intial dispute regarded Russia and Estonia’s roles in World War II), such orchestration might not be necessary.
Probably more important is the Russian method, which is opening up new avenues for inter-state bullying. The attacks by Russia have caused genuine property damage and economic loss in Estonia. Facing a denial of service attack is obviously preferable to fending off cruise missiles, but the disruptive effect can be quite similar. To the extent that economic activity becomes more and more embedded in electronic networks, the ability of attacks to disrupt or destroy these networks will become increasingly problematic, and politically relevant. NATO is already thinking along these lines:
For NATO, the attack may lead to a discussion of whether it needs to modify its commitment to collective defense, enshrined in Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty. Mr. [Hillar] Aarelaid said NATO’s Internet security experts said little but took copious notes during their visit.
Lots of work has been done on “cyber war”, the promise and vulnerability of networked military organizations. Less attention has been paid to the economic prospects of cyber warfare, and to the ability of states to exert power and coercion through a new set of tools. When Russia tries to coerce its neigbors through threatening to destroy their economic and governmental activity, it becomes a problem for NATO and consequently the United States.
Cross-posted to TAPPED.