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Cyber-attack cripples Estonian institutions

The New Battlefield: The internet becomes yet another place to wage war

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In April, the government of small, tech-savvy Estonia, once occupied by the U.S.S.R. for 50-odd awful years, decided to relocate a Soviet war monument from the center of the capital city of Tallinn to a nearby cemetery. The Russian-speaking population of Estonia got pretty upset about this, with riots and such breaking out across the country. To which you're probably saying, yeah, that sucks and all, but, big deal, riots happen all the time all over the world. Which is very true, but that's not what's alarming about this situation.

See, between the first and second night of rioting, some entity (I'm not naming names, but really, I'm looking right at you, Russia) launched a massive cyber assault on the Estonian digital-infrastructure, mainly through distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS). By flooding a website, or websites, with communication requests from hacked computers, a DDoS attack eats up all of a site's bandwidth, bringing all traffic to and from the site to a standstill.

Imagine if suddenly every single vehicle downtown made a beeline for the Ravenel Bridge at the same time that a seven-car-pileup at the crest of the span had reduced the traffic to a single lane. It'd be something like that, but 10,000 times worse. Now think about that happening on every single level of internet access there is: e-mail, websites, credit card transactions, ATMs, cell phone networks.

And the kicker? Estonia is considered one of the most wired nations in the world — they have free WiFi across the whole freakin' country. Compare that to our failed local efforts to provide WiFi on the peninsula and you start to get the picture of how woefully unprepared we are for something of this nature. Not that I'm trying to scare the crap out of you or anything. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the nation of Myanmar has been having its own share of unrest lately.

Now, the nation formerly known as Burma hasn't exactly been doing all that great on its human rights report card lately; in fact, it's pretty fair to say that these guys are consistently earning D-minuses or worse. And while there's always been a pretty active pro-democratic movement inside the military junta-run nation, recently there has been a surge of protests led by monks and dissidents, which prompted the usual overzealous police crackdown, which in turn galvanized the monks into further action, etc., etc.

What has set this apart from other anti-government protests in your standard issue dictatorships is that quite a lot of information about the crackdown was heading out of Myanmar to the rest of the world via YouTube, e-mail, and cell phones. Which, when you think about it, is pretty much the global equivalent of getting your hand caught in the cookie jar.

To stop this information from getting out, the Myanmar government shut down the internet, severed phone lines, and appropriated mobile phones from its citizens. Of course, anytime you close down access to and from your country and then warn reporters — you know, those people who report things — not to talk about bad shit going down in your country, you're more or less admitting your guilt and encouraging the media to focus even more attention on your misdeeds.

One thing the Myanmar government failed to realize is that there are these funny things called satellites that hang out in, ya know, space, and they have cameras that — you guessed it — can look down just about anywhere on the surface of the planet. Right now, those satellites are doing a whole lotta looking at Myanmar, and the crap happening there is less of the hand-in-the-cookie-jar variety and more of the the-cops-just-found-a-dead-hooker-in the-front-seat-of-your-Bentley kind.

All things considered, I suppose it's a good thing that we don't have to worry about media censorship in this country. It would be a shame if our government leaders made sure the press only told us what they wanted us to know.

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