Russia’s Tiny Neighbor Prepares Its Cyber Revenge

(Bloomberg) -- Estonia, the tiny eastern European nation that says it was the first target of state-sponsored cyber warfare from Russia, may soon be able to strike back.

Mirroring larger NATO members, its military is assembling a cyber-command unit to combat virtual attacks that have been growing by as much as 20 percent a year. As well as defensive strategies, the team of 300 people will develop offensive capabilities, though these won’t be deployed during peacetime.

“To prepare for defense, you need to know how to attack,” Col. Andres Hairk, head of the cyber-command unit, said in an interview before this week’s official opening. “When the real need arises, through armed conflict or war, then this capability that’s been developed to test our systems can be employed against potential adversaries.”

Russia’s Tiny Neighbor Prepares Its Cyber Revenge

While Russia’s army is more than 150 times bigger, Estonia may have an edge on the cyber battlefield. As well as being a technology hub that helped create Skype, the Baltic country of 1.3 million people hosts NATO’s cyber-defense center and organized the first cyber exercises for European Union defense ministers last year. It’s even involved civilian volunteers and reservists in cyber defense, a tactic other NATO members have copied, according to Hairk.

The nation, once an unwilling member of the Soviet Union, also has first-hand knowledge of the kind of attacks it’s looking to see off.

In 2007, Estonia suffered cyber attacks that disabled government, banking and media websites following a row with the Kremlin over the relocation of a World War II memorial in Tallinn. Nine years later, hackers that researchers later connected to Russian military intelligence were accused of attacking Estonia’s largest shale-oil producer.

Russia denied involvement in both incidents and Hairk refused to name it -- or any other countries -- as potential threats.

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