Estonia fends off ‘extensive’ cyberattack following Soviet monument removal

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Russian patriotic hackers hit Estonia’s public institutions and private companies with a cyberattack Wednesday following the country’s removal of a Soviet tank monument and its decision to cancel tourist visas for Russians.

The Baltic state was hit with “the most extensive cyberattack since 2007,” the government’s Chief Information Officer Luukas Ilves said, detailing how government services fought off a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) that sent avalanches of internet traffic to Estonian servers in an attempt to bring them down.

The attacks were largely ineffective, Ilves said, as government services continued to operate with some “brief and minor exceptions” and “the attack has gone largely unnoticed in Estonia.”

The Russian group KillNet claimed the attack on their Telegram channel, Reuters reported. The group is a brash collective of pro-Russian government hackers that plays into Russia’s strategy in Ukraine and the West, and has previously said it would cooperate with Moscow’s security services.

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The Baltic states are a frontline for European governments’ cyber conflict with Russian hackers following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last February.

Latvia’s national parliament faced a DDoS attack from the same Killnet hacking group last week after it voted to declare Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Earlier in June, Killnet also claimed a similar attack against Lithuania after the country blocked goods to the Russian territory of Kaliningrad.

Estonia was one of the first countries in the world to face a massive Russian hybrid attack in 2007 that included cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns, which also followed a government decision to move a bronze statue of a soldier from the center of Tallinn. The incident shocked the country’s officials into beefing up its cyber defenses, making it one of Europe’s frontrunners in cybersecurity services today.

This week’s attack came after the government said Tuesday it will remove Soviet Union war monuments in the eastern city of Narva. Estonia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 following the Soviet invasion of the Baltic states in the 1940s.

Estonia’s cybersecurity authority told local media ERR 12 attacks were targeted at state institutions and four at private sector organizations. “In nine attacks, no impact was detected and in seven attacks interruptions to services may have occurred for several minutes,” it told ERR.