Keep Us Strong WikiLeaks logo

Currently released so far... 2497 / 251,287

Articles

Browse latest releases

Browse by creation date

Browse by origin

A B C D F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z

Browse by tag

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
QA
YE YM YI

Browse by classification

Community resources

courage is contagious

Viewing cable 07TALLINN366, ESTONIA'S CYBER ATTACKS: WORLD'S FIRST VIRTUAL

If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Understanding cables
Every cable message consists of three parts:
  • The top box shows each cables unique reference number, when and by whom it originally was sent, and what its initial classification was.
  • The middle box contains the header information that is associated with the cable. It includes information about the receiver(s) as well as a general subject.
  • The bottom box presents the body of the cable. The opening can contain a more specific subject, references to other cables (browse by origin to find them) or additional comment. This is followed by the main contents of the cable: a summary, a collection of specific topics and a comment section.
To understand the justification used for the classification of each cable, please use this WikiSource article as reference.

Discussing cables
If you find meaningful or important information in a cable, please link directly to its unique reference number. Linking to a specific paragraph in the body of a cable is also possible by copying the appropriate link (to be found at theparagraph symbol). Please mark messages for social networking services like Twitter with the hash tags #cablegate and a hash containing the reference ID e.g. #07TALLINN366.
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TALLINN366 2007-06-04 14:02 2010-12-06 21:09 SECRET Embassy Tallinn
VZCZCXRO4489
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV
DE RUEHTL #0366/01 1551427
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 041427Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY TALLINN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9880
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW IMMEDIATE 2513
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUENAAA/SECNAV WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO IMMEDIATE 1194
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE IMMEDIATE 0480
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHMFISS/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC IMMEDIATE
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 TALLINN 000366 

SIPDIS 

SIPDIS 

DEPT FOR EUR/NB 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/04/2017 
TAGS: PREL PGOV ECON ETRD NATO RS EN
SUBJECT: ESTONIA'S CYBER ATTACKS: WORLD'S FIRST VIRTUAL 
ATTACK AGAINST NATION STATE 

REF: A) TALLINN 276 B) TALLINN 280 C) TALLINN 347 D) 
LEE-GOLDSTEIN EMAIL 05/11/07 

Classified By: Ambassador S. Dave Phillips for reasons 1.4 (b) & (d) 

1. (S) Summary. Since April 27, Estonia has been the 
victim of the world's first coordinated cyber attacks 
against a nation state and its political and economic 
infrastructure. The sensational nature of the story, 
combined with the highly technical details of the subject 
matter, has led to a good deal of misinformation in the 
public domain. Although GOE and international analysis 
is ongoing, these attacks have highlighted the 
vulnerability of both government and private sector 
internet infrastructure to attacks of this nature. For 
over a month, government, banking, media, and other 
Estonian websites, servers, and routers came under a 
barrage of cyber attacks. Defense against the attacks 
was extremely expensive for both GOE and the private 
sector. GOE and private cyber defense experts cite the 
nature and sophistication of the attacks as proof of 
Russian government complicity in the attacks. End 
Summary. 

Virtual Shots Heard Round the World 
----------------------------------- 

2. (C) Cyber attacks against Estonian websites began on 
April 27. They came in the wake of rioting in Tallinn 
triggered by the Government of Estonia's (GOE) 
preparations for relocating the so called "Bronze 
Soldier", a Soviet-era World War II monument (Refs A and 
B). The attacks initially targeted GOE websites 
including those of the Estonian President, Prime 
Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ministry of 
Justice (MOJ), and Parliament, among others. According 
to XXXXXXXXXXXX the initial attacks were 
technically unsophisticated and "seemed more like a cyber 
riot than a cyber war." However, all our Estonian 
interlocutors clearly recognized these attacks as 
political in nature. Russian-language internet chat 
forums held discussions exhorting people to attack 
Estonian sites and supplied downloadable software tools 
to carry out the attacks. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, these 
initial attacks were limited to spam (a barrage of 
unsolicited emails) and cyber vandalism (e.g., Prime 
Minister Andrus Ansip's photo was defaced on the Estonian 
Reform Party's website) and appeared to be nothing more 
than a virtual mob reaction to the Bronze Soldier issue. 
Estonian media and press commentators were quick to 
accuse Moscow of being responsible, interpreting these 
attacks as part of Russian retribution for moving the 
Bronze Soldier (Ref C). 

3. (S) However, on April 30, a broader range of cyber 
attacks -- from simple spam postings to coordinated DDoS 
(Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks -- began against 
GOE sites. (Note. A DDoS attack is when a flood of 
bogus queries are made to a specific server or network of 
computers in order to over-saturate the target and 
prevent access by legitimate users. End Note.) For 
example, the Presidential website, which normally has a 2 
million Mbps (megabits per second) capacity, was flooded 
with nearly 200 million Mbps of traffic. While none of 
the technology involved in the attacks was new, tactics 
and tools routinely shifted to prevent Estonian 
authorities from blocking the attacks. One of the most 
pernicious tools in these attacks was "bots." (Note. 
Bots are computers and/or servers under the control of a 
third party. End Note.) These bot attacks came from 
ISPs (internet service providers) around the world (e.g., 
the United States, Canada, Russia, Turkey, Germany, 
Belgium, Egypt, Vietnam, etc.). Attacks routinely came 
from one set of bots, subsided and then resumed again 
using another set of bots with different ISPs. According 
to XXXXXXXXXXXX, the attacks ranged from a single
minute to  many hours in length. The longest attacks lasted


TALLINN 00000366 002 OF 004 


over  ten hours and unleashed a crushing 90 million Mbps of 
traffic on targeted endpoints. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX,
the GOE's  assessment was that a small but unknown number
of  individuals were behind these more sophisticated cyber 
attacks, which quickly dwarfed the traffic volume of the 
initial cyber rioters. 

4. (S) On May 3, the cyber attacks expanded beyond GOE 
sites and servers to private sites. Hansabank and SEB, 
Estonia's two largest banks, faced the most significant 
problems. Swedish-owned Hansabank and SEB account for 
almost 75% of all online banking in Estonia. (Note: 
Approximately 90% of all money transfers and bill 
payments in Estonia are done online. End Note.) 
Hansabank was well prepared with powerful servers, 
alternate sites to mirror content (thus making it more 
difficult for DDoS attacks), and the ability to 
reallocate access lines from foreign to domestic 
customers. However, even though Hansabank's site 
remained online, XXXXXXXXXXXX estimated that it came
at a cost -  - at least 10 million Euros ($13.4 million)
 Hansabank  also had to temporarily block access to its site by all 
foreign ISPs so that there was enough broadband capacity 
for its domestic clients. However, Hansabank was able to 
create alternate access mechanisms for its largest 
foreign customers. Correcting much of the press coverage 
in the early days of the attacks, XXXXXXXXXXXX
 said that  while the cyber attacks against Hansabank and SEB were a 
challenge, there was no serious danger of Estonia's 
banking sector being shut down. 

5. (S) This second wave of cyber attacks also hit the 
websites of Postimees, Estonia's paper of record, and 
Eesti Paevaleht, a leading Estonian-language daily, which 
over two-thirds of Estonians regularly visit for their 
news. "Imagine if you can the psychological effect," 
XXXXXXXXXXXX asked us, "when an Estonian tries to
pay his bills but can't or get the news online but can't." As 
one of the most wired countries on the planet, GOE 
interlocutors viewed the evolution of the attacks as a 
frightening threat to key economic and societal 
infrastructure. 

6. (S) The attacks reached their apex on May 9, the 
Russian anniversary of the end of World War II. To cope 
with the rising volume of attacks, the GOE increased its 
broadband capacity from two Gbps (Gigabites per second) 
to eight Gbps. Hansabank, SEB, Postimees, and others 
also added servers to increase broadband capacity. A 
EUCOM cyber defense expert described it as a "cyber arms 
race" where the Estonians repeatedly increased their 
broadband capacity to match the increasing volume of 
cyber attacks (Ref D). XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that XXXXXXXXXXXX
increased the  "broadband pipe" for both government and private 
clients  at a frantic pace to keep up with the attacks.
XXXXXXXXXXXX  told us that one GOE ministry increased
its original  server capacity of 30 Mbps to 1 Gbps (1 Gbps
equals 1000  Mbps). XXXXXXXXXXXX said that this defensive
response by  the GOE and the private sector was ultimately
successful,  but it was extremely expensive. 

7. (S) The number of attacks steadily declined after May 
9 and 10, allowing GOE and private sites to reduce their 
broadband capacity. However, on May 15, there was an 
unexpected spike in attacks that focused on Hansabank and 
SEB. In two separate and coordinated 15 minute attacks, 
these two sites were hit with over 400 bot attacks 
(roughly half the number of bot attacks recorded on May 
10) from multiple ISPs. The attacks temporarily crashed 
SEB's site for 30 minutes. Since the May 15 spike, the 
number of attacks has declined and is now hovering 
slightly above pre-April 27 numbers. 


No Smoking Gun 

TALLINN 00000366 003 OF 004 
8. (S) On May 2, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet released a 
statement that the MFA had proof that some of the attacks 
originated from GOR ISPs. The Estonian and international 
press carried Paet's claim, but  XXXXXXXXXXXX interlocutors 
distanced themselves from the accusation. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX  privately said to us that no "smoking gun"
incriminating  Moscow has turned up and likely won't.
The use of bots,  proxies, and spoofing tactics makes it
extremely  difficult to determine with any certainty the origin 
of  the attacks. Press reports suggested that a million 
computers were involved in the attacks. However, 
XXXXXXXXXXXX admitted that due to Estonia's poor
monitoring  capability, XXXXXXXXXXXX could only speculate on the
number of computers and servers attacking Estonia, and had
even less specific information on the origins of the attacks. 
(Note. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that the one million figure
 used by  the press and the GOE was from a quote to the press
taken out of context in which he tried to explain how he could 
only speculate a number ranging from a 1000 to a million 
computers. End Note.) 

9. (S) The GOE believes it has enough circumstantial 
evidence to link Moscow with the attacks. As President 
Ilves told the Ambassador, renting the large number of 
bots used in these attacks is an expensive business. 
Moreover, as XXXXXXXXXXXX repeatedly asked us in 
conversations, "Who benefits from these attacks?" He 
speculated that the probing nature of the attacks on 
specific government and strategic private sector targets 
through the use of anonymous proxies fit the modus 
operandi of the Putin regime testing a new "weapon." 
XXXXXXXXXXXXX told us that the GOE now feels that their original 
assessment of a "cyber riot" may have been incorrect. 
"Looking at the patterns of the attacks, it is clear that 
there was a small, core of individuals who intended to 
launch their attack on May 9," XXXXXXXXXXXX explained, "but 
when the MOD announced its plans to move the Bronze 
Soldier on April 27, they moved up their plans to try to 
link the attacks with the monument's removal." Estonian 
analysis of these later sophisticated attacks and 
organization through Russian-language internet forums has 
led them to believe that the key individuals tried to 
disguise their initial attacks as a cyber riot. "You 
don't expect spontaneous, populist cyber attacks to have 
a pre-determined list of targets and precise dates and 
times for coordinated attacks," said XXXXXXXXXXX. 

10. (S) GOE interlocutors expressed their frustration 
that their requests for information from the GOR or 
action on Russian-based ISP attacks were not answered or 
acted upon. XXXXXXXXXXX complained that cooperation
with  Russia's CERT was almost nonexistent. Even at the height 
of the Bronze Soldier controversy, GOE interlocutors who 
regularly work with their Russian counterparts (e.g., law 
enforcement, customs and tax, border guards, etc.) tell 
us that working level cooperation was positive. In 
comparison, the lack of responsiveness by the GOR and 
Russian CERT personnel only diminished Russia's claims of 
innocence in the eyes of the Estonians. 

11. (S) On May 29, Konstantin Koloskokov, Commissar of 
the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi in Transnistria, 
claimed responsibility for some of the early cyber 
attacks. While not discounting the possibility of his 
involvement, XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that some of the
attacks were  extremely sophisticated; beyond the technical
abilities  of an amateur. To illustrate the point, XXXXXXXXXXXX
 and  XXXXXXXXXXXX described an attack that used a mysterious
data  packet to crash a GOE and Elion router so quickly that 
the Estonians are still uncertain how it was done. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX described in detail a number of
additional  attacks using different tools and techniques
and targets  to argue that an organized group with deep
financial backing was the likeliest culprit. "Koloskokov is
window  dressing," said XXXXXXXXXXXX, "a convenient
set-up by the  real perpetrators." 

TALLINN 00000366 004 OF 004 

PHILLIPS