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DOS Gets Political in Estonia

Online attacks disable government sites as riots and arrests roil former Soviet republic

Many of Estonia's government agencies are still unreachable via the Web today after hackers launched denial-of-service attacks that rendered many of their sites useless over the weekend.

The DOS attacks are presumed to be extensions of Russian nationalists' protests against the Estonian government, which have resulted in one death, more than 150 injuries, and 1,100 arrests over the last few days.

Russian-speaking Estonians are angered by the removal of a large bronze statue of a Red Army soldier that commemorates Russia's contributions during World War II. The statue, which previously stood prominently in a downtown square in the Estonian capital of Talinn, was moved to a military cemetery in another part of the city.

Estonian government officials said the busy intersection was not an appropriate site for a war memorial, where the statue was surrounded by a number of graves. But Russians inside and outside of Estonia denounced the move as a symbol of growing discrimination against them in the former Soviet republic.

As pro-Russian sentiment was sparked across Eastern Europe, IT security observers were not surprised to see that the Estonian government's public Websites came under attack -- presumably by Russian hackers, who have built a reputation for targeted exploits.

At least six of Estonia's primary government sites -- including the main government Web server as well as the Estonian parliament, prime minister, and ministry of foreign affairs -- are still unreachable today, according to security vendor F-Secure, which has been monitoring the attacks.

"Other [Estonian government sites] are up but do not allow any traffic from foreign IP addresses," F-Secure says. "Some sites are up but are in 'light-weight' mode. For example, the site of the Estonian Police has been changed to one text-only page."

More than half of F-Secure's attempts to access the Estonian government's main site have failed since late Saturday night. Other attempts took so long that they would have caused most browsers to time out.

So far, the Estonian government has not issued any statements as to how its systems were penetrated or what it is doing to stop the attacks.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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