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Russian politician: 'My assistant started Estonian cyberwar'

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A junior Russian politician has admitted that a Russian government official might have played some part in the infamous cyberattacks against Estonia two years ago - sort of.

Comments by Sergei Markov, a State Duma deputy from the Putin's Unified Russia party, on a cybercrime panel may have been intended as a joke. Nonetheless the remarks are likely to inflame tensions between Russia and its Baltic neighbour, heightened by subsequent internet attacks during the war between Georgia and Russia last year.

During a discussion on information warfare in the 21st century, moderated by US-based Russian journalist Nargiz Asadova, Markov unexpectedly went into a Boris Yeltsin-style rant, Radio Free Europe reports.

"About the cyberattack on Estonia... don't worry, that attack was carried out by my assistant. I won't tell you his name, because then he might not be able to get visas," he said.

Markov explained his assistant was in "one of the unrecognized republics" during the 2007 dispute with Estonia where he decided on his own initiative that "something bad had to be done to these fascists" before launching a cyberattack.

"Turns out it was purely a reaction from civil society and, incidentally, such things will happen more and more," he added.

Civil unrest in Estonia over the relocation of Soviet-era WWII memorials in April 2007 was followed by sustained denial of service attacks against the Baltic nation’s government, bank and media websites. The attacks stemmed from botnet networks of compromised PCs. Estonia makes heavy use of the internet so the attack caused a great deal of inconvenience, while acting as a wake-up about cyberwarfare.

Estonian ministers blamed Russian government for instigating the attacks, an accusation the Kremlin robustly denied at the time. Only one person has ever been charged over the attack, a member of Estonia's ethnic Russian minority.

Dmitri Galushkevich, of Tallinn, was fined 17,500 Estonian Krooni ($1,641) after he was convicted of launching hacking attacks on the website of the Reform Party of Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and government systems.

Despite Markov's boast it seems likely that "patriotic hackers", stirred up by Russia nationalist press, formed a cyber-militia that was the main participant of the attacks on Estonia. The attacks were almost certainly carried out by a group rather than any one person, so Markov's assertion ought to be taken with a pinch of vodka salt. ®

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