Estonia: Ground Zero for World's First Cyber War?

Authorities believe Estonia was the target of a cyberattack.

ByABC News
May 17, 2007, 10:47 AM

May 17, 2007 — -- The legacy of World War II continues to haunt Europe and may have just started a new confrontation -- this one befitting the digital age. Computers in the entire nation of Estonia have been virtually shutdown, and the Estonians blame Russia.

Estonia, a country of only a million and a half citizens situated in Europe's far north between Finland and Russia, has undergone nearly three weeks of cyberattack and the country is accusing Russia for being behind it.

Russia and Estonia have a long and complicated history. In 1940, when the Soviet Union occupied Estonia under the Ribbentropp-Molotov treaty, Nazi Germany and its then-ally the Soviet Union were expected to carve up this part of Europe between them. After the war, the Soviet Union reoccupied Estonia until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On April 27 the Estonians decided to relocate a monument to Soviet soldiers from the center of the capital city of Tallinn. For Russians this was sacrilege. Russian children have been taught that Soviet troops went into Estonia as liberators. For Estonians, however, this was the removal of a symbol of over 50 years of Soviet oppression.

Years of Soviet occupation left a sizeable Russian-speaking minority in Estonia. The day the Soviet memorial was to be relocated to a military cemetery, many Russians came out in its defense. Riots left 160 people injured, one youth dead, and the city center pillaged.

All of a sudden, also on that day, many Estonians found out that they could not access their Internet or read their mail. For nearly three weeks the life of the country had been disrupted. The entire state administration was paralyzed, banks came to a standstill and companies had to freeze their operations.

It didn't take long for the problem to be diagnosed as a cyberattack by another country or a very well organized entity.

While no one at this stage will point blaming fingers at any one country, Estonians have little doubt that it's Russia taking revenge. Immediately after the incident with the monument, Russian politicians were calling for an economic blockade of Estonia. The Estonian embassy in Moscow was attacked and Russian police turned a blind eye to violent protesters.

This is the first known incident of an entire country being subjected to a cyberattack. Both NATO and the European Union see this as an attack on one of their member states, and NATO rushed in its IT specialists to solve and analyze the problem. Three hundred top Estonian IT specialists worked day and night with little sleep to study this unprecedented attack.