Threat of cyberattacks prompt Estonian officials to investigate possibility of using UK data centres for citizen data
Amid growing concerns over the safety of citizens’ data in Estonia, the country’s officials are in talks with the British government to possibly pursue ‘backing up’ masses of data from electoral rolls, banking credentials and property deeds in a British data centre.
According to the Financial Times, escalating tensions between Tallinn and Moscow have only heightened concerns about cyberattacks in the country, and Estonian officials are looking to the UK to provide secure servers for the country’s data.
‘Joint data management’
A British government spokesperson confirmed with the newspaper that the UK has had initial discussions with Estonia “about a joint data management project”.
Estonia ‘went digital’ far ahead of most other European countries. Citizens already pay taxes over the internet and vote over the internet, with many other services also paperless.
“There’s almost nothing now we don’t do digitally,” said the Estonian government’s cyber chief Taavi Kotka.
Cybersecurity has been a priority in Estonia since 2007, when widespread, massively coordinated cyberattacks crippled the Estonian parliament and the country’s banks, along with broadcasters and newspapers.
At the time, Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet accused Russia of orchestrating the attacks, but no official evidence was ever found of the Kremlin’s involvement.
However, many claim the attacks were in response to the country’s disagreement with Russia over Soviet-era war graves and the relocation of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn, a Russian grave marker. In 2008, an ethnic-Russian Estonian was charged and convicted for helping plan the attacks.
Estonia, often referred to as the ‘tech capital of Europe’, already uses a number of what it calls ‘data embassies’ across the continent. In the Estonian government’s cyber security strategy, written in 2014, “ensuring digital continuity of the state” was a top provision.
The strategy details how “e-services, processes, and information systems [including digital registers of evidential value] that are essential for the digital continuity of the state are constantly updated and mapped, and they have mirror and backup alternatives. Virtual embassies will ensure the functioning of the state, regardless of Estonia’s territorial integrity”.
But Britain’s exit from the European Union could throw Estonia’s plans into disarray, leading Estonian officials to also discuss data embassy plans with Luxembourg – a market ready to capitalise on the data sovereignty doubt Brexit has thrown on Europe.