Information Warfare: Cyber Thugs March Through Georgia

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August 13,2008:  Georgia is not just being invaded by Russian troops, it is also being hammered on the Internet, with the same Cyber War techniques Russia used against Estonia last year. Russia was accused of causing great financial harm to Estonia via Cyber War attacks, and Estonia wants this sort of thing declared terrorism, and dealt with. NATO agreed to discuss the issue, but never took any action against Russia. But as a result of that incident, NATO established a Cyber Defense Center in Estonia three months ago.  The Cyber Defense Center is one tangible result of the 2007 Cyber War attacks. The Center will study Cyber War techniques and incidents, and attempt to coordinate efforts by other NATO members to create Cyber War defenses, and offensive weapons.

Two months ago, the Baltic nation of Estonia concluded that the weeks of Cyber War attacks it endured last year 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. Georgia has been occupied by the Russians for over a century, and were never really very comfortable with it.

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 hustled to get into NATO. The Russians, however, believed that massive Cyber War attacks would not trigger a NATO response. Meanwhile, 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 were 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.

The same patterns are being seen now, but the attacks are directed at Georgia. Again, none of this is being done officially, and the Russian government denies any involvement. Meanwhile, the Russian media, and Russian language Internet sites, are full of anti-Georgian propaganda, and were for weeks before the Russians attacked. Some of this bile is being picked up by other European users, and currently it's very fashionable on French web sites to blame the Russian invasion on the United States, and portray the Russians as the true victims.

Meanwhile, Estonia has sent two Cyber War exerts to Georgia, to help in dealing with the Internet based attacks coming out of Russia.

 


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