Applebaum on Estonia

Does a cyber-attack constitute a military attack? Anne Applebaum discusses Estonia, Russia, and Nato in a new column:

Of course, as is the way of these things, the attacks’ precise origin cannot be determined: Unlike classic terrorism, the essence of modern cyber-warfare is its anonymity. Though some attacks did appear to come from PCs belonging to the Russian presidential administration, others came from as far afield as Brazil and Vietnam. As a result, even the Estonian government’s experts have backed away from directly accusing the Russian government. After all, angry hackers can organize a ” botnet” — computers that have been remotely hacked and forced, unwittingly, to send out spam or viruses — anywhere. Indeed, “patriotic” Chinese hackers have made a specialty of this sort of assault, using computers all over the world to attack both Japanese and U.S. government Web sites at moments of high tension. Both the anonymity and the novelty may turn out to be part of the appeal, particularly if, as some in NATO now believe, the attacks are Russian “tests” of the West’s preparedness for cyber-warfare in general and of NATO’s commitment to its newest, weakest members in particular. Some believe the Russian government is experimenting with different tactics, trying to see which forms of harassment work best: whether the verbal attacks on Estonia, the Russian oil pipeline to Lithuania that mysteriously needs repairs, or the embargos on Polish meat products and Georgian wine.