TALLINN - Civilian and military officials in Estonia are racing to complete the finishing touches on establishing a new center for studying cyberattacks and disseminating awareness on the newest technological threats to western governments.
Over the next few months a number of international agreements are expected to be signed for creating the NATO Center of Excellence in Cooperative Cyber Defense (CCD CoE), which will be located in Tallinn.
Foreign Minister Urmas Paet started lobbying for allies' support in setting up the center during a recent visit to Iceland, and he expressed Estonia's readiness to receive Icelandic specialists at the center.
A number of other proposals for beefing up cyber-security will be formally adopted at NATO's upcoming summit in Bucharest, Romania.
At the alliance's meeting of defense ministers in Vilnius, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reiterated that cyberdefense would continue to be a national priority but that the alliance was prepared to help support members who were under attack or needed assistance in setting up defenses.
"Cyber defense is a national responsibility, but NATO can offer consultations in case of serious cyber attacks. There is agreement on the concept as far as cyber defense is concerned. It's now a matter for further fine-tuning this concept," he said during the meeting in Vilnius.
Laid out in the proposals are several initiatives designed to streamline, develop and coordinate NATO member states' defense against cyber attacks, the sort of which came to international attention when directed against Estonian institutions last April.
If the measures are adopted, heavy support will be provided toward developing software defense programs for state and financial institutions deemed to be in the interest of national security.
Second, a series of e-war games will be scheduled between participating states, designed to test the viability of national systems and international coordination.
Further, a central operations center will be created in order to coordinate responses between national agencies and procure intelligence on origins of attacks.
The center will be located in Tallinn and become the hub of NATO member cyber defense operations. Aari Lemmik, the Defense Ministry's deputy director of public affairs, clarified the procedural steps in a conversation with The Baltic Times.
The lengthy process in establishing the center actually predates the Tallinn riots in April 2007 and actually started a year earlier, when Estonia proposed a "capability contribution" 's an area in which the member state believes itself to have special knowledge and skill and could coordinate activities on a higher level important to all alliance states.
The international body eventually approved Estonia's offer of a "cyberdefense" unit.
This was followed by putting together the core infrastructure that would comprise the NATO CoE 's or the Estonian Defense Forces IT and Communications Training and Development Center (SIVAK).
Currently the center is run by Mihkel Tammet and Rain Otis, the director of Estonia's cyber defense department.
Other NATO sponsor states interested in contributing to the defense initiative then proposed and sent their representatives to the CCD CoE. A cooperative agreement was signed between all participating member states for establishment and operation of the body. This is the current stage of the process, with posts set to be finalized on Feb. 22 and a signing ceremony to take place in May.
The center is expected to be completed by the end of 2008, after which it will go into full operational swing and be given the status of a legitimate international military organization operating in coordination with NATO Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT).
The governing body of Estonia's CDD CoE will be a "steering board" that consists of representatives from all participating member states. This body will manage the budget along with the working plan of the organization.
NATO will first propose the working plan approved by the steering committee, after which it will be implemented by the center's experts and researchers 's about 30 people in all 's in Tallinn. The number of specialists may increase along with budget adjustments or interest in the project of participating member states.
As the "host nation," for the CDD CoE, Estonia is allowed to choose the director of operations. Earlier this month it was announced that Lieutenant Colonel Ilmar Tamm will take the post.
Tamm has been serving as a senior staff officer in the NATO land forces headquarters in Germany and will start work with CoE on Aug. 1.
Continuity of geography and composition will remain as the body evolves in the coming months.
"The SIVAK is physically at the same location where the CCD CoE will be located, and the present staff will most likely be the same staff who will be working in CCD CoE," said Lemmik.
Highlighting the benefits of a multinational approach to cyber defense, Lemmik stressed the free exchange of knowledge that will help counteract the Direct Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks.
"In general, the CoE will deal with NATO projects, but all the participating states gain from this center by obtaining know-how, belonging to the expert network and contributing to overall cyber security. NATO's enhanced capability to deal with cyber-threats brings along such capabilities on the member state level as well," said Lemmik.