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11th Jul 2020

NATO picks Estonia for high-tech crime centre

One year after government websites in EU state Estonia were crippled by a series of cyber attacks, NATO has moved to set up a centre on cyber defence in the country's capital, Tallinn.

On Wednesday (14 May), seven NATO members - Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Spain - signed a pact formally establishing a so-called Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence.

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"The need for a cyber defence centre to be opened today is compelling," general James Mattis in charge of NATO's transformation efforts, said after the ceremony, adding that the centre "will help the alliance defy and successfully counter the threats in this area."

The centre - due to be up and running in August, but formally opened in 2009 - will conduct research and training on cyber warfare. It will have a staff of 30 people, half of them IT specialists from seven founding countries.

The United States will join the project as an observer, while other NATO allies are free to step in later.

The project is a direct response to three weeks of systematic cyber-attacks on Estonia's government and private websites in April and May 2007 - something Tallinn claims was orchestrated by Moscow in response to a dispute involving a Soviet-era monument.

The Baltic state had moved a bronze statue of a soldier from central Tallinn to a military cemetery. The Bronze Soldier was erected by the then Soviet authorities in 1947 and is seen by many Russians as a testament to the Soviet Union's painful contribution to the World War II effort.

But it is regarded by most Estonians as a symbol of 20th century Soviet oppression.

"We know how difficult it is to defend the sovereignty of our land and sea borders, and air space," Estonian Defence Minister Jaak Aaviksoo was cited as saying by AP.

"It is even more complicated in the borderless cyber space where there is no smoking gun, no fingerprints, no footprints."

The 27-nation EU, for its part, has also moved to wage war against high-tech crime. The European Commission last May presented some ideas on how to cope with crimes such as online fraud, identity theft, hacking and child pornography.

A public consultation is still ongoing, but Brussels has made it clear it will act cautiously on the legislative front and rather focus on boosting cooperation between EU states.

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