Estonia has signed a deal with six other NATO members to make it the military alliance's leading expert on Internet-based warfare: It is a move seen as recognizing its surviving a major Web-based attack a year ago.
Estonia takes the lead in cyber-defense
At a ceremony at NATO's headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, May 14, Estonia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovakia, Lithuania and Latvia in which the seven countries agreed to fund and man a cyber-defense research and training center in Tallinn.
The signing ceremony paves the way for NATO as a whole to recognize it as a "center of excellence" and to use it as a main source of cyber-defense expertise. Full NATO accreditation is expected by the end of the year, officials said.
"Missiles are no longer needed to shut down infrastructure; this can be achieved in cyberspace. Therefore, we must be innovative in our defense," Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves told German news agency DPA ahead of the signing ceremony.
The Tallinn center is set to employ some 25 experts on cyber-defense from the signatory countries, plus five administrators. Their task will be to study issues of cyber warfare, advise NATO members on how to fight online and discuss how NATO members can best work together on Web-based defense.
As well as NATO heavyweights Germany and Italy, the alliance's most powerful member, the US, is also set to send an expert to the center and could decide on further cooperation once NATO accreditation is finalized, officials said.
Estonia lauded for cyber-defense success
NATO sources say that the decision by such major allies to join the project testifies to Estonia's success in fighting off a major Internet-based attack one year ago.
In the conflict, Russian hackers launched a series of attacks aimed at shutting down the Web sites of Estonian government services and banks in retaliation for Estonia's decision to relocate a Red Army war memorial.
The attacks, which Estonia successfully withstood, brought the concept of cyber-warfare to the top of the defense agenda and gave Estonia a reputation for front-line expertise in the field.
NATO recognition is seen as both confirming that status and giving the small Baltic state (population 1.3 million) a chance to make its voice heard in an alliance of 26 states, practically all of which are considerably larger than Estonia.