BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Seven NATO nations gave their backing on Wednesday to a new cyber defense centre in Estonia, the ex-Soviet state which last year faced weeks of attacks on its Internet structure after a row with Russia.
Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Spain agreed to help fund and staff the centre in the Estonian capital Tallinn. The United States will initially send an observer to the project, aimed at boosting defenses against such attacks.
“We have seen in Estonia that a cyber attack can swiftly become an issue of national security. Cyber attacks can cripple societies,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai said after a signing ceremony in Brussels.
The centre will have some 30 staff when fully operational in August and provide research, consultation, training and development of cyber defenses, which will remain the prime responsibility of national governments.
Estonia’s decision last year to remove the bronze statue of a Red Army soldier from the centre of Tallinn sparked rioting by mainly Russian-speaking youth, a row with Moscow and four weeks of cyber attacks which its president blamed on Russia.
Moscow has denied any involvement in the flood of data which overloaded servers and caused computers to crash, with Estonian officials saying its banks were briefly targeted.
While some analysts see “cyber war” as one of the world’s emerging security risks, many NATO nations are reluctant to recognize it as such by explicitly stating that such attacks could be grounds for invoking the alliance’s mutual defense clause — the pledge to defend other allies under attack.
Last month’s NATO summit included an agreement to study any request for help by any ally facing a cyber attack.
Reporting by Mark John; Editing by Janet Lawrence