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Elite, All-Voluntary Cyber Defense League Keeps Estonia's 'Net Secure

hand on keyboardThe small post-Soviet nation of Estonia has created a bit of a paradigm for cyber-security: an elite, all-voluntary force of private and public sector tech pros, from programmers to administrators to top army officials. It's kind of like a cyber-Justice League.

Before this starts to sound like a tale of vigilante justice, some history: in 2007, after Estonia made a decision to move a Russian war memorial, the country experienced a massive cyber-attack, which has since been traced to Russia. A highly connected country (with nearly 80-percent of its citizens managing their finances online), Estonia suffered a brutal attack, effectively scaring the country into action. A fear of invasion pervades the Estonian mentality, founded on the Russian occupation pre-World War II, the German occupation during the war, and a postwar Soviet presence that lasted all the way until 1991. It is clear, then, that the need for a unified defense force is deep in the Estonian psyche. Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo speaks of this Estonian quality to NPR, saying, "Insurgent activity against an occupying force sits deep in the Estonian understanding of fighting back."

Experts and top cyber-security forces have created the Cyber Defense League, which will roll into action if a threat is detected. A totally unique force in the world, the group of engineers, designers and programmers would be united under military command in the event of an emergency. The Defense League is just a part of an all-volunteer auxiliary army dubbed Estonia's Total Defense League, which was established by private citizens to assure Estonian independence.

The reasons this works in Estonia are clear; the nation's history proves a deep need for public and private sector cooperation, and a fierce desire for self-determination (as opposed to outsourcing tech safety to a third party). NPR spoke with Stewart Baker, a Bush-era cyber-defense coordinator, who suggested that a group like this in the United States would be useful, but unlikely. "The people who work in IT in the U.S. tend to be quite suspicious of government," Baker says. "Maybe they think that they're so much smarter than governments that they'll be able to handle an attack on their own." Since many U.S. infrastructural elements -- like banks, delivery services and transportation -- are private-sector-only (much like Estonia's), the cooperation between the government and corporations in the event of an attack is important to Baker. Whether or not U.S. tech experts could ever unite to form one Voltron-esque cyber-force is yet to be seen, but trust in the government seems to be lacking. If U.S. programmers and engineers are suspicious of our nation's ability to protect its cyber-borders, maybe an elite, voluntary defense force is exactly what we need.

Tags: CyberAttack, cybercrime, CyberDefenseLeague, cybersecurity, CyberWarfare, Estonia, government, russia, security, top, USSR