Estonia repels cyberattacks claimed by Russian hackers

Tallinn claims the cyberattacks triggered by removal of Soviet-era monument near border with Russia were ‘ineffective’.

Illustration of a cyberattacker
Russian hacker group Killnet claimed responsibility for the attacks [File: Kacper Pempel/Reuters]

Estonia has repelled a wave of cyberattacks, which came shortly after its government opted to remove Soviet monuments in a region with an ethnic Russian majority.

“Yesterday, Estonia was subject to the most extensive cyber attacks it has faced since 2007,” Luukas Ilves, Estonia’s under-secretary for digital transformation at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Ilves said the attempted distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks had “targeted both public institutions and the private sector” but were ultimately “ineffective”.

“Services were not disrupted. With some brief and minor exceptions, websites remained fully available throughout the day. The attack has gone largely unnoticed in Estonia,” he added.

Russian hacker group Killnet claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying on its social messaging app Telegram account on Wednesday that it had blocked access to more than 200 state and private Estonian institutions, such as an online citizen identification system.

Killnet, which claimed a similar attack against Lithuania in June, said it acted after a replica World War II Soviet Tu-34 tank was removed from public display on Tuesday in the town of Narva, near Estonia’s border with Russia, and taken to the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi.

The Estonian government had earlier ordered the swift removal of all public Soviet-era memorials in the majority-Russian-speaking town, citing rising tensions there and accusing Moscow of trying to exploit the past to divide Estonian society.

NARVA, ESTONIA - MAY 27: T-34 Tank memorial from WWII showing where the Red Army crossed into Estonia in 1944 on May 27, 2022 in Narva, Estonia. The town of Narva sits on the very edge of Nato's eastern flank, with a population of almost 60,000, with 97% speaking Russian. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The town of Narva sits on the very edge of NATO’s eastern flank, with a population of almost 60,000, the majority of whom are Russian speakers [File: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images]

Tensions over Soviet monuments

In a DDoS attack, hackers try to flood a network with unusually high volumes of data traffic in order to paralyse it when it can no longer cope with the scale of data requested.

Estonia, a European Union and NATO member state, moved to boost cybersecurity in 2007 after suffering extensive DDoS attacks on public and private websites that it blamed on Russian actors angry about its removal at the time of another Soviet-era monument.

The Red Army statue was taken down from its position in a square in the capital, Tallinn, prompting two nights of riots by ethnic Russians.

Like its Baltic neighbours, Estonia has removed many monuments glorifying the Soviet Union or communist leaders since the country regained independence in 1991.

The government and many Estonians saw the Tallinn monument as a painful reminder of 50 years of Soviet occupation, while some ethnic Russians viewed its removal as an attempt to erase their history.

Russian officials have criticised Estonia’s drive to remove remaining Soviet-era monuments.

“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 spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier this month.

Earlier this month, Estonia decided to bar Russian citizens with Schengen visas that were issued by the northernmost Baltic state from entering the country from August 18 in response to Moscow’s ongoing offensive in Ukraine.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies