Monday, May 21, 2007

Russian Thuggery

I know, this is not the sort of stuff I usually get excited about, but this is different. I've been there. I know people there. They warned me several years ago that Russia would love nothing better than to get Estonia back.

So when the Estonians move a Soviet monument, they find themselves under widespread internet attack from Russia (via the Washington Post). Abnormally coordinated hackers? Russian Mafia? Russian Intelligence running field tests for cyberspace warfare? Does it really matter who? The fact is that someone can.

"These attacks were massive, well targeted and well organized," Jaak Aaviksoo, Estonia's minister of defense, said in an interview. They can't be viewed, he said, "as the spontaneous response of public discontent worldwide with the actions of the Estonian authorities" concerning the memorial. "Rather, we have to speak of organized attacks on basic modern infrastructures."

This next little bit is telling, not just for just how seriously this is being taken, but by whom:

The NATO alliance and the European Unionhave rushed information technology specialists to Estonia to observe and assist during the attacks, which have disrupted government e-mail and led financial institutions to shut down online banking.

I think we can expect to see more of this in years to come, and not just from Russia. And why don't I find the Russian response reassuring:

A Russian official who the Estonians say took part in the attacks said in an interview Friday that the assertion was groundless. "We know about the allegations, of course, and we checked our IP addresses," said Andrei Sosov, who works at the agency that handles information technology for the Russian government. His IP address was identified by the Estonians as having participated, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

"Our names and contact numbers are open resources. I am just saying that professional hackers could easily have used our IP addresses to spoil relations between Estonia and Russia."

Whether he's lying or telling the truth, the implications are still scary.

"The nature of the latest attacks is very different," said Linnar Viik, a government IT consultant, "and it's no longer a bunch of zombie computers, but things you can't buy from the black market," he said. "This is something that will be very deeply analyzed, because it's a new level of risk. In the 21st century, the understanding of a state is no longer only its territory and its airspace, but it's also its electronic infrastructure."

Or, to quote one of my all-time favorite movie characters, "I've got a bad feeling about this."

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