Estonian plan for 'data embassies' overseas to back up government databases

By Graeme Burton
30 May 2014 View Comments
bank-of-estonia

Estonia is planning to open "data embassies" overseas to back up government databases and to operate government "in the cloud".

The aim is partly to improve efficiency, but driven largely by fear of invasion and occupation, Jaan Priisalu, the director general of Estonian Information System Authority, told Sky News.

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He said: "We are planning to actually operate our government in the cloud. It's clear also how it helps to protect the country, the territory. Usually when you are the military planner and you are planning the occupation of the territory, then one of the rules is suppress the existing institutions.

"And if you are not able to do it, it means that this political price of occupying the country will simply rise for planners."

Part of the rationale for the plan, he continued, was fear of attack from Russia in particular, which has been heightened following the occupation of Crimea, formerly in Ukraine.

"It's quite clear that you can have problems with your neighbours. And our biggest neighbour is Russia, and nowadays it's quite aggressive. This is clear."

The plan is to back up critical government databases outside of Estonia so that affairs of state can be conducted in the cloud, even if the country is invaded. It would also have the benefit of keeping government information out of invaders' hands - provided it can keep its government cloud secure.

According to Sky News, the UK is already in advanced talks about hosting the Estonian government databases and may make the UK the first of Estonia's data embassies.

Having wrested independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia has experienced frequent tension with its much bigger neighbour. In 2007, for example, after the relocation of the "Bronze Soldier of Tallinn" and the exhumation of the soldiers buried in a square in the centre of the capital to a military cemetery in April 2007, the country was subject to a prolonged cyber-attack sourced to Russia.

Russian hacker "Sp0Raw" said that the most efficient of the online attacks on Estonia could not have been carried out without the approval of Russian authorities and added that the hackers seemed to act under "recommendations" from parties in government. However, claims by Estonia that the Russian government was directly involved in the attacks were "empty words, not supported by technical data".

Mike Witt, deputy director of the US Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), suggested that the distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks, while crippling to the Estonian government at the time, were not significant in scale from a technical standpoint. However, the Estonian government was forced to shut down many of its online operations in response.

At the same time, the Estonian government has been accused of implementing anti-Russian laws and discriminating against its large ethnic Russian population. 

Last week, the Estonian government unveiled a plan to allow anyone in the world to apply for "digital citizenship" of the country, enabling them to use Estonian online services, open bank accounts, and start companies without having to physically reside in the country.

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