Russia/Estonia cyberwar “bollocks”

A few months ago The Guardian reported an apparent cyberwar, where Russian hackers attacked Estonian systems. It was picked up by various outlets, and formed the jumping-off point for an information warfare feature I wrote for PC Plus. Turns out the war was no such thing. As Charles Arthur puts it:

one has to say that downsizing has hit warfare. For the latest on that attack is that it was done by one kid. In his bedroom. In Estonia. And he’s Estonian er, perhaps Russian. (I await a definitive parsing of his name.) According to InfoWorld, a 20-year-old Estonian student has been fined for the attacks

Thankfully for the cyberwar feature, experts saved me from looking like a complete arse over the Estonian thing:

Were the [Estonian] attacks cyber-terror? James Lewis doesn’t think so. The former diplomat is the technology and public policy programme director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS, www.csis.org), the US think-tank whose advice regularly informs US domestic and foreign policy. “There’s a fair amount of exaggeration involved in all of this,” he says.

The bulk of the feature looked at US claims of Chinese hacking attacks, and ended:

Lurid tales of cyber-attacks paint China as the techno-villain in a new kind of Cold War, but it’s possible that such stories are being exaggerated for political means, to boost particular departments’ budgets or to encourage, motivate or recruit hackers to launch their own attacks on China.
Are we being paranoid? Possibly. However, most of the information we have on the attacks, their nature and their origins comes via the government, the military and most of all, the security services. Disinformation and propaganda are forms of information warfare too.

That’s the tough thing about cyberwar stories: by their very nature, you have to depend on what governments and other agencies tell you, and what various expert analysts can suggest. As this case shows, it can be a while before the truth emerges – assuming it is the truth this time, of course. Heh.