Estonia Calls for EU Law Against Cyber-Attacks

STRASBOURG, France -- Estonia called on the European Union on Wednesday to make cyber-attacks a criminal offense to stop Internet users from freezing public and private web sites for political revenge.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said he believed that the Russian government was behind an online attack on Estonia over its decision to move a Red Army monument from a square in the capital Tallinn. Russia has denied any involvement.

The decision to move the Soviet-era memorial triggered two nights of rioting by mainly Russian-speaking protesters, who argued that it was a symbol of sacrifices made during World War II.

The rioting coincided with repeated requests to web sites, forcing them to crash or freeze. Network specialists said at the time that at least some of the computers used could be traced to the Russian government agencies.

"Russian officials boasted about having done it afterward -- one in a recent interview a month and a half ago saying we can do much more damage if we wanted to," he said.

"We now have a much clearer understanding that we need to have a legislative basis for prosecuting cybercrime, because it is a crime," Ilves said.

"That is something we are pushing for within the European Union and within NATO as well, where we can. It's almost by definition a cross-border crime," Ilves added.

"The U.K. has good legislation and the United States has good legislation. France has better than most and the rest of the EU does not really have this kind of legislation," Ilves said.

The European Commission has the sole right to initiate EU law, and its information society and media commissioner, Viviane Reding, agreed that action was needed.

"What happened in Estonia should be a wake-up call for Europe. Cyber-attacks on one member state concern the whole of Europe. They must therefore receive a firm European response," Reding said from Budapest.

Reding said that in November she proposed setting up a new European telecoms market authority. NATO also has opened a cyber defense "center of excellence" in Estonia to study solutions to combating online attacks.