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.

4 thoughts on “Russia/Estonia cyberwar “bollocks”

  1. Charles says:

    Except that as the discussion on the Gdn blog shows, it’s yet again not as simple as that – while it seems not to have been (Russian) government-inspired, it may have been lovers-of-the-Russian government-inspired. (I worn out my hyphen. Oh.)

    So it’s even more complicated than the debunking suggests..

  2. Gary says:

    Indeed. Tramm’s comment was a good one: “It is impossible to have pinpoiting hard evidence about cyber attacks without access to the raw log data files from local ISP-s. Especially if botnets were used.”

    I think that’s what’s fascinating and frustrating about it – it’s a hugely interesting story, but most of it falls into the “unverifiable” camp. So far at least.

    Nice post on the IFPI, by the way.

  3. Spy Guy says:

    For about a year now the former Chief Strategist of Netscape has been warning everyone through his articles that this was a huge threat and actually identified several strategies and tactics that if used would compromise the information infrastructure in the U.S. and globally. Why is it our intelligence services are just waking up to this threat? Why is it throughout history we ignore or dismiss the experts until it is too late! I just did a Google search (Kevin Coleman Cyber Attack) and found over 13,000 references. With that much intelligence we should be much further along in protecting and defending against cyber attacks that we are today!

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