Estonia wards off Russian cyberattacks after Soviet statue removal

Estonia wards off Russian cyberattacks after Soviet statue removal
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas arrives for a special meeting of European council called in emergency after the launch of Russian military operations in Ukraine, in Brussels, Thursday 24 February 2022, at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

Estonia's government said on Thursday that it had fenced off largescale cyberattacks that hit the country's institutions just after it removed a Soviet memorial.

"Yesterday, Estonia was subject to the most extensive cyberattacks it has faced since 2007," said Luukas Ilves, undersecretary for digital transformation at Estonia's Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. "With some brief and minor exceptions, websites remained fully available throughout the day. The attack has gone largely unnoticed in Estonia."

Russian hacker group Killnet claimed responsibility for the attacks, as it claimed to have blocked access to over 200 state and private Estonian institutions, as well as online citizen identification systems and ministries. Ilves, however, stressed that the "attempted attack" was not "effective."

Killnet said the assault came after Estonia removed a Soviet T-34 tank from its plinth in Narva, a border town which has an ethnic Russian majority.

Removing monuments from Soviet times

The country's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the government decided to remove the Soviet monuments as they were "symbols of oppression" and represented a risk to public order. After gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia has gotten rid of multiple monuments which glorified it, arguing that these statues were a painful reminder of Soviet occupation

In 2007, after the decision of the Estonian government to relocate a large Soviet war memorial, Estonia suffered several nights of bloody riots by ethnic-Russians. The violence left one dead and 171 injured.

During the riots, Estonia suffered an elaborate string Russian cyberattacks, which targeted critical infrastructure such as banks, ministries, newspapers, and broadcasters.  Since then, Estonia has overhauled its cybersecurity to become one of Europe's leading countries in the field.

Tensions are running high between NATO-member Estonia and Russia over the latter's invasion of Ukraine, with Estonia calling for an EU ban on Russian tourists to the region.

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In the meantime, the Kremlin blasted Estonia's removal of its Soviet monuments in Narva.

"We find this outrageous. A war with a common history, getting rid of monuments for those who saved Europe from fascism, of course, is outrageous. This does not make any nation look good, including Estonia," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said earlier in August.

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