Estonia seeks safe location abroad to protect citizens’ data from hackers

By on 29/07/2016
Estonia already uses its embassies abroad to house servers to safeguard copies of government files

The government of Estonia is holding talks with Britain and Luxembourg about setting up a data centre to back up data amid fears of a Russian cyber attack, it has been reported.

Estonia already uses its embassies abroad to house servers to safeguard copies of government files, but amid an escalation of tensions with Moscow and growing concerns about cyber attacks from its eastern neighbour, the small Baltic nation is now planning to make a virtual copy of itself in a safe location abroad.

“We have a very aggressive neighbour and we need to be sure that whatever happens to our territory in the future, Estonia can survive,” Taavi Kotka, the government’s cyber chief told the Financial Times newspaper.

“In Estonia we already vote over the internet, we pay taxes over the internet — there’s almost nothing now we don’t do digitally.”

He added that if something “really bad happened, we want to be able to say that our country still remains — we will still be able to be a country even if we don’t have our territory.

“When people talk about cyber attacks there is usually a lot of fear [mongering] and demons. “But in Estonia people have lived through it — they know what happens and that means we take it seriously.”

Estonia is one of the most digitally-advanced states in the world: the government operates on an entirely paperless basis, and Estonians each have a unique encrypted digital identity which is used ubiquitously — from contactless payments on the transport network to checking into hospitals.

And for the last couple of years, citizens around the world who do not live in Estonia have been able to access digital services online as part of the country’s e-Residency scheme.

So far, there are more than 10,000 e-Estonians who, once they have collected their e-ID card from an Estonian embassy, can use their digital identity to remotely open and run businesses in Estonia, sign documents digitally and file their tax returns online.

Estonia fell victim to a major Russian-backed cyber attack in 2007 which affected banks, media, the government and telecoms networks, and the country has regarded its digital security as a top priority ever since.

Estonia, which has a population of around 1.3m, has become increasingly vulnerable because of its position on the front line of Nato’s stand-off with Russia.

A British government spokesperson confirmed to the FT that the UK has had initial discussions with Estonia “about a joint data management project.”

However, negotiations are in their early stages, the FT reports, adding that the UK’s decision to leave the EU has been a complicating factor, which has led Estonia to also hold talks with Luxembourg about a data centre as a result.

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See also:

Plans for radical changes to Estonia’s local governments passed by Parliament

Estonian government approves draft legislation to allow remote opening of bank accounts

What’s so great about Estonia’s e-Residency programme?

Estonia doubles e-Residency fee to cope with growing demand

Heiki Loot, Government of Estonia: Exclusive Interview

Singapore launches single platform for government e-services

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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