In 2007, the Baltic republic of Estonia was blindsided by a series of large-scale cyber attacks, crippling the country’s government, financial and media online networks – the world’s first cyberwar. Eventually the origins of the denial of service (DDoS) assaults were traced to Russia, which has led the country to create a Cyber Defense League, a specialty military unit of IT volunteers that would help fend off similar future cyberassaults.
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The league, made up of a group of Estonian programmers, computer scientists and software engineers would be the country’s main leg of defense in the event of a second cyberwar, but an all-volunteer unit may not pack enough nerdpower for confident security. Instead, Estonian officials are considering a draft among the country’s IT work force, Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo told NPR this week. “We are thinking of introducing this conscript service, a cyber service,” Aaviksoo said. “This is an idea that we’ve been playing around [with]. We don’t have the mechanism or laws in place, but it might be one option.”
Though a draft of this nature would most likely only be instated in the face of a true emergency, the concept is certainly a utilitarian one, yet slightly scary. In the U.S., most private sector cybersecurity experts are prohibited from government work by contract, but there’s no doubt a government run cyber army is attractive to officials here as well. Stewart Baker, the man charged with coordinating our cybersecurity team under President George W. Bush told NPR that attempts at uniting public and private cybersecurity experts have been unsuccessful so far. “The people who work in IT in the U.S. tend to be quite suspicious of government,” Baker said. “Maybe they think that they’re so much smarter than governments that they’ll be able to handle an attack on their own. But there’s a standoffishness that makes it much harder to have that kind of easy confidence that you can call on people in an emergency and that they’ll be respond.”
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The greatest outside threat toward American networks is undoubtedly China, emphasized after cyberespionage hacks were traced back to two educational facilities in China, both with known military connections. If the U.S. were ever to enter a physical state of war with the Chinese, a cyberwar would surely follow, meaning that government affiliated hackers would attempt to infiltrate American Internet networks while searching for sensitive intel and disrupting service crucial to all important institutions that rely on network servers to function, like banks or even the media. Take a minute to think about impact a total web blackout would have on the U.S., the country that nearly has a meltdown each time its favorite social network goes down for an hour or two. A successful attack would mean total disruption and serious loss of revenue, after which, I’m sure Estonia’s geek draft would begin to look pretty affable.