Cyber attacks lead to war of words

  • 2007-07-13
  • By TBT staff and wire reports

ESTONIA'S ONLINE DEFENSE: Mart Laar drew parallels between cyber crime and terrorism

TALLINN - Tensions between Estonia and Russia show no signs of declining any time soon and the latest manifestation of ill-will concerns the spring 'cyber attacks' on Estonia which are widely believed to have emanated from Russia in the immediate aftermath of the 'Bronze Soldier' controversy.

Earlier this week, the Russian embassy in Tallinn said that it has not witheld assistance with regard to an ongoing Estonian probe in to the attacks, but didn't help because the authorities' request was not formulated properly.

Quoting the impenetrable legalese of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, the embassy said that the existing bilateral legal assistance agreement implies procedural actions prescribed by the laws of both parties and does not envision search actions aimed at establishing the whereabouts of individuals concerning the investigation.

"Taking this into account, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office requested that a new inquiry be formulated by the Estonian side strictly in line with the said agreement," the embassy said, before reaffirming its willingness to provide the Estonian authorities with legal assistance.

The embassy then accused the Estonian Public Prosecutor's Office of a wish to "sell hot news to the mass media as quickly as possible."

On May 10 the Russian prosecutor's office was sent a request 's perhaps somewhat optimistically 's for assistance in tracking down the cyber warriors behind the attack, who appeared to be located somewhere in Russia.

"It is regrettable that in this criminal case Russia wishes to interpret the bilateral legal assistance agreement in a different way. In the judgment of the Public Prosecutor's Office, this clearly demonstrates a lack of willingness to cooperate," the Estonian prosecutor's office responded.

"In its reply that arrived on June 28, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office refused to fulfill the Estonian request," the Public Prosecutor's Office added.

State prosecutor Norman Aas said Russia's decision not to cooperate was extremely regrettable, especially in a situation where a large part of the international public had already realized the danger of cybercrime and was looking for ways to fight it.

Criminal action for the investigation of mass attacks against Estonian Internet servers was launched May 2 on the basis of Penal Code articles on computer sabotage and damaging computer network connections. Estonia's senior police department has been put on the case, signalling the seriousness of such attacks on an economy that is increasingly reliant on its reputation for IT expertise.

Ironically, it was Estonia's hi-tech excellence that helped it repulse the attacks, which caused far less damage than they might have done in a less techno-savvy society.

By July 11, that was precisely the point being made by former prime minister Mart Laar at a seminar of the European judicial cooperation body Eurojust in Brussels. Eurojust is a European Union body established in 2002 with a view to fighting cross-border and organized crime.

"It was the achievements in implementing e-governance that helped Estonia respond to the assault directed against it. If some other country where development of e-governance has made less progress had been hit by a similar attack, the consequences might have been very heavy," Laar said.

"This makes the attitude of Russia that has refused to cooperate with Estonian law enforcement agencies on a probe into the cyber attacks all the more regrettable," he added, describing the perpetrators of the attacks as "terrorists".

Russia's unwillingness to render Estonia legal assistance reportedly astonished members of Eurojust and drew their criticism 's placing the ball firmly back in Moscow's court.