Wandering the pretty, medieval streets of Tallinn's old town, it is hard to believe that the tiny country of Estonia has anything at all to do with cyberwarfare. But first as victim of an attack and now as home to some of the leading thinkers on how the digital battlefield will develop, the country has played a key role in its emergence and evolution.
Estonia is a country of around 1.3 million people, facing the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland, it borders Latvia to the south and Russia to the east. After decades as part of the Soviet Union, it regained independence in 1991.
Even today reminders of the Soviet times still abound in the capital Tallinn. There's a museum in one of the big downtown hotels showing how the KGB would bug the rooms of foreign guests.
But Estonia does not intend to be defined by its past, but is instead intent on creating the most advanced digital state on the planet. Since independence, Estonia has invested heavily in digital services. It leads the way with internet voting—in the 2011 election nearly a quarter of voters cast their ballots that way—and electronic tax filing, all underpinned by a nationwide digital signature infrastructure.
Today, you can even become an Estonian e-resident regardless of where you live in the world so you can use that same infrastructure to electronically sign contracts or set up your own company in the country.
But being so reliant on the internet carries a risk, as the country found out in 2007.
Plans by Estonian authorities to move a Soviet war memorial sparked a wave of website defacements and denial of service attacks in the country over a three week period, throwing Estonia's government services, newspapers, and businesses offline. The attacks temporarily disabled the websites of banks, ministries and political parties. Many pointed the finger at Russian hackers (Russia denied any involvement in the incident) but the events demonstrated how a purely digital attack on a state could have real-world consequences.