Estonia will create overseas ‘data embassy’
Mon 25 Jul 2016
Estonia, the most technologically advanced of the Baltic states, is reportedly creating an offshore data centre to protect private information of its citizens from potential hackers. The government of Estonia is currently in talks with providers to set up a ‘data embassy’ either in the UK or Luxembourg, as off-site data storage in the event of a large-scale hacking event.
A government official confirmed (paywalled) that Estonian officials contacted the UK government looking for secure servers to back up the country’s data in a ‘joint data management project.’
Setting up a dedicated, secure data centre abroad to store backups of the massive amounts of data collected by the Estonian government will in effect create a ‘data embassy’, with Estonian information secured in a foreign land.
The data embassy will comprise a secure facility, with dedicated hardware and networks and on site managers that functions much like a real embassy. Increased political tension in the Baltic states, particularly between Estonia and Russia, has greatly increased concerns about cyber attacks in Estonia.
Often referred to as the ‘tech capital of Europe’, Estonia is an early adopter of online technology. According to a survey from 2015, Estonia has one of the highest internet penetration rates (90%) in the EU, second only to Denmark. Citizens of Estonia pay their taxes and vote online, and banking, property and health services are mostly paperless as well. This has resulted in an enormous amount of private data about Estonians that is stored online, making the country extremely vulnerable to hackers.
Estonia suffered a major cyber attack in the spring of 2007, when a coordinated DDoS attack crippled government and business websites throughout the country. While the Estonian government suspected that Russia was responsible for the attack, their involvement was never proved.
The attack, however, did follow a period of escalating tensions between Russia and Estonia, when Estonia’s decision to move a Soviet WWII statue from down-town Tallinn sparked riots in Russia and among ethnic Russians in Estonia. The cyber attacks in 2007 were so widespread that they prompted NATO to establish a cyber defense facility in Tallinn in 2008, and Estonia to ask the EU to criminalize cyber attacks. As Estonians still hold the Kremlin responsible for the 2007 attacks and tensions are rising once again, cyber security tops the list of concerns in Estonia at this time.
However, with the uncertainty raised by the recent decision in the UK to exit the EU, Estonian officials are reportedly also researching data embassy options in Luxembourg. The plan is apparently to establish data embassies worldwide, replicating information and providing increasingly complex levels of security to protect the information of citizens. As the video embedded above says, “Estonian government cloud is like a hydra – cut off one head, three more will grow back.”