Information Warfare: Russian Hacker Thugs Identified

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June 4,2008: The Baltic nation of Estonia has concluded that the weeks of Cyber War attacks it endured were not an act of war. Or, rather, the attacks were not carried out by the Russian government, but at the behest of the government by Russian hackers angry at Estonia. Some Internet security researchers believe that the attacks were the result of efforts by a small number of hackers, who had access to thousands of captive (or "zombie") PCs. Some of them were located in Russian government offices. But that's not unusual, as government PCs worldwide tend to be less well protected than those in large corporations. It is believed that governments are behind similar attacks that temporarily shut down politically embarrassing web sites. This is becoming very common, and often the attacks are ones where only a particular government would benefit.

The Russian attacks were the result of Estonia moving a statue, honoring Russian World War II soldiers, from the center of the capital, to a military cemetery. The Estonians always saw the statue as a reminder of half a century of Russian occupation and oppression. Russia saw the statue move as an insult to the efforts of Russian soldiers to liberate Estonia, and enable the Russians to occupy the place for half a century. The basic problem here is that most Russians don't see their Soviet era ancestors as evil people, despite the millions of Russians and non-Russians killed by the Soviet secret police. The Russians are very proud of their defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, ignoring the fact that the Soviet government was just biding its time before it launched its own invasion of Germany and Europe in general.

While many Russians would have backed a military attack on Estonia, to retaliate for the insult by an ungrateful neighbor, this approach was seen as imprudent. Estonia is now part of NATO, and an attack on one NATO member is considered an attack on all. It's because of this Russian threat that Estonia was so eager to get into NATO. The Russians, however, believe that massive Cyber War attacks will not trigger a NATO response. Russian language message boards were full of useful information on how to join the holy war against evil Estonia. There's no indication that any Russians are afraid of a visit from the Russian cyber-police for any damage done to Estonia. And the damage was significant, amounting to millions of dollars. While no one has been injured, Estonia insisted that this attack, by Russia, should trigger the mutual defense provisions of the NATO treaty. It didn't, but it was a reminder to all that Cyber War is very real.

 


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