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How Estonians became pioneering cyberdefenders

Three hundred cybersecurity experts are in Estonia this week for an international conference on cyberconflict. They want to know what Estonians know.

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Ahead of spring elections, Agu Kivimägi was tasked with trying to ensure that online voting in Estonia wasn't vulnerable to attack. Its pioneering system of casting national ballots via the Internet would be a hacker's prize target.

After the ballots were counted, returning Estonia's center-right government to power, e-voting escaped assault – or any technical difficulties, for that matter.

Mr. Kivimägi, who oversees computer security for Estonia's Interior department, is part of the world's first volunteer cyberarmy, deployed this year to help ward off hacker strikes and defend against online warfare.

Made up of Estonia’s best information technology (IT) minds, from programmers to lawyers, the 150-member Cyber Defense League is Estonia’s cyber national guard. Should Estonia come under attack, they would deploy under the command of the National Defense League, a volunteer force created to safeguard the country's security and independence.

A reaction to Estonia experiencing a major cyberattack in 2007 – unofficially traced to Russian hackers – the volunteer cyberforce is an effort to get Estonians to participate in a societal, not just a military, task. Now, the tiny Baltic nation's e-defenses have captured the world's attention as hacker strikes grow in intensity – and the threat of cyberwar becomes increasingly real.

"We are only starting out, but I mention [the cyberarmy] initiative as the kind of solution that we need to begin to consider," Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said today at the 3rd International Conference on Cyber Conflict to Analyse the Nature of Cyber Forces, a gathering this week of more than 300 cyberdefense experts from 37 countries in Tallinn.

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