State planning to increase security in foreign consulates

The building of the Estonian Embassy in Oslo.
The building of the Estonian Embassy in Oslo. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The state is planning to significantly increase security at its foreign consulates over the next decades. Secure information systems and communications between the embassies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a task more complicated than physical security.

The Government Office has drawn up a special foreign consulate security indicator, which shows that the security rate at foreign consulates is at 23.3 percent next year and should stand at 87.5 percent in three years. By 2031, that indicator should stand at 100 percent.

However, this does not mean Estonian representations will be protected against everyone and everything. The foreign ministry's diplomatic security department chief Hendrik Lõbu said the requirements differ for each consulate. Foreign representations also have different orientations, for example, the permanent representation at NATO requires different conditions than the embassy in South Korea.

"The security indicator consists of physical security, developed connection systems and information security," Lõbu noted.

The ministry will not publish the cost of reaching these goals, as it is complicated to predict where technology will develop in the next decade and what the development plan will end up costing.

"The other thing is certainly that we do not want to betray our key issues for our potential enemies," Lõbu said, adding that specialists can make do with very little information. "If they know the size of the Estonian representation and receive a certain overview of what we want to do, they can rather easily calculate what we want to acquire and what we are currently missing."

State secrets can only be unveiled in specific rooms

Nations ensure security in their foreign consulates in different ways. U.S. consulates and embassies have special military units assigned to their representations. The Estonian foreign ministry can ask the Police and Border Guard Board for help in assigning armed surveillance to an embassy. But generally, the security of Estonian consulate workers and guests is ensured by passive measures.

"You have fences, you have strong doors, windows and walls. Another important thing is that the embassy knows who is currently in the building, that it is possible to register those who enter and exit. We also have cameras and surveillance systems," Lõbu said.

What is even more complicated than physical security is anything linked to information systems and connections. The representations must also be prepared for the darkest scenarios, meaning situations where the foreign ministry's headquarters are cut off from the rest of the world. This means the systems and the information kept in the systems must be duplicated multiple times over.

"The foreign ministry operates as a Hydra with multiple heads. If you take off one head, the consulate network will continue to operate, connections will be maintained and we will be better protected against attacks," Lõbu said.

Processing state secrets is also something foreign consulates deal with. This can only be done in specific secured areas, which host encrypted connections. The representations which need these secret rooms have the capabilities, Lõbu said.

He noted that there could be more of these rooms, but noted that you cannot chase quantity without paying at least some attention to quality.

"There can also be nations where we have consulates, but there is no reason for us to force information processing capabilities if they are not necessary," Lõbu said. "It can end up with us bringing in a risk if things are not up to the requirements and are done sloppily."

The foreign ministry official added that security systems must constantly be improved. Cyber attack capabilities continue to increase and there are still criminals out there.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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