Cybersecurity on Agenda as Bush Welcomes Estonian President

By David McKeeby
USINFO White House Correspondent

Washington - The need for increased international attention to cybersecurity following a recent wave of attacks on Estonia’s government computer systems was a key issue in June 25 discussions in Washington between U.S. President Bush and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

“Cyber attack makes us all vulnerable,” Bush said in joint remarks at the White House following their meeting June 25.  “I really want to thank you for your leadership, and thank you for your clear understanding of the dangers that that imposes not only on your country, but mine and others as well.”

Ilves thanked the United States for standing by his country‘s quest for independence “even in the darkest of times.”

In the 15 years since regaining its freedom from Soviet occupation, Estonia has built a robust economy with a renowned information technology industry.  A majority of its citizens have access to the Internet, where banking, voting and many government services are readily available, leading to a new nickname for the country - “e-Stonia.” 

“Estonia is a thriving example of how freedom has transformed the nations of Central and Eastern Europe,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters June 25.

In April, government and commercial servers were hit with a series of attacks by hackers, which Estonian authorities linked to a dispute with neighboring Russia over the recent relocation of a Soviet war memorial from the World War II era in the capital, Tallinn.  Moscow firmly has denied any involvement in the incident. 

“It is a serious issue if your most important computer systems go down in a country like mine, where 97 percent of bank transactions are done on the Internet,” Ilves said.  “When you are a highly Interneted country like we are, then these kinds of attacks can do very serious damage.” 

A NATO member since 2004, Estonia received support from computer security experts from the 26-nation alliance who, along with experts from Estonia’s Scandinavian neighbors, helped to contain the hackers.

Ilves proposed establishing a NATO cybersecurity research center in Estonia to build on his country’s experience and help member states safeguard their own computers from future attacks.

“I think that it's an issue that will require much more attention in the future.  And I'm very happy that two countries that are very vast in terms of information technology can work together on these issues,” Ilves said.

Bush also praised Estonia for its contribution of troops and reconstruction aid in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I thank you very much for your voice, heard very clearly, for those who suffer under tyrannical societies,” Bush said.  “Freedom is a precious gift to all and that democracy and societies based upon liberty are the best way to not only enable people to realize their talents, but to lay the foundation for peace.”

Ilves also requested inclusion of Estonia in the United States' visa waiver program, which allows citizens from select countries to enter the United States with only a valid passport. (See related article.)

Bush acknowledged “inconsistency” in U.S. policy and pledged to continue working with the U.S. Congress to remedy the situation.

A transcript remarks by Bush and Ilves is available on the White House Web site.