Ambassador Prompts Estonians to Consider Issue of Cyber Offense ({{commentsTotal}})

Ambassador Michael C. Polt
Ambassador Michael C. Polt Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

In an address given at Estonia's IT College titled, "Protecting Our Virtual Lives," United States Ambassador to Estonia Michael C. Polt spoke on the topic of risk management in the age of the internet.

Acknowledging that no one really knows the true cost of cyber crime, the ambassador noted a 2009 survey conducted by the McAfee Corporation, which polled 800 chief information officers, and estimated "costs to corporations alone was as much as one trillion dollars." The ambassador added that security has not kept pace with internet service expansion and that "there is the ever present need to add costs to benefits."

 
Polt  praised Estonia's groundbreaking work in IT and e-government, noting that in terms of Estonia's ID cards, "We [the US] marvel at the Estonian willingness to interact with their government with such trust." 
 
Polt said he is "pushing hard" for the US to be the ninth sponsoring nation to Tallinn's Cyber Center. "It's high time for us to make good on this commitment made by Defense Secretary Gates here in Tallinn back in November 2008," he said. He is also pushing for Estonia to be able to participate in Cyber Storm IV, a biennial exercise designed to test the United States' National Cyber Incident Response Plan. Cyber Storm III took place in September 2010 and involved 12 "international partners" and over 60 "private sector partners."
 
Polt said a new US Secret Service Office would open in the embassy in Tallinn this fall with the charge to focus on financial crime and cooperate with Estonian authorities to combat cyber crime and internet fraud. The Secret Service Office will have a staff of five, according to the ambassador.
 
To combat cyber crime, Polt pushed the need to raise awareness, including among young people, and suggested a public service program, including putting Lotte, a popular Estonian children's character, "on the job against cyber crime." 
 
The ambassador himself raised for discussion the idea of cyber offense. Noting that his country's new Cyber Command – an organization tasked with defending information networks of the US Department of Defense – was part of the military, this "should suggest to you the obvious. If it's a military command, it's not going to be just about cyber defense, it's going to be about cyber offense. Do you have a problem with that? Does that bother you?" Prompting a silent audience to consider the issue, he said, "You [Estonians] have to have a view on this issue. You can't be indifferent."
 
"The best defense is a good offense," said Polt. "I know that's trite. But part of defense of course is countering an offense. Once you're countering an offense and defending yourself, you are in an offensive posture. It's difficult to separate the two." Drawing parallels to the US fighting "terrorist activity" in Afghanistan rather than "in downtown Tallinn or Manhattan," Polt noted that "a certain kind of offensive capability is part of a good defense" and he said Estonia was exercising its offensive capability with 170 soldiers under dangerous conditions in Helmand Province. 
 
Asked if he was attempting to foster an academic debate about where defense ends and offense begins or whether he was outright advocating cyber offense, the ambassador responded, "I'm advocating a whole range of options for any country's national security, and a full range of options includes a full range of options, and therefore I am not [...] prepared to go ahead and take any option off the table. And I'd submit to you none of us really can."


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