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First 'data embassy' to open in Luxembourg

Server room.
Server room. Source: (AFP/Scanpix)

Data of the Estonian administration may be stored on servers in Luxemburg as well as in Estonia already towards the end of this year. The “data embassy” created this way will contain information vital to the functioning of the state, and make an attack on the country’s systems more difficult.

The data embassies will keep information vital to the functioning of the state safe on servers in other European Union member states. As cyber security expert of Tallinn’s NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, Jaan Priisalu, says, “If an operator is planning to occupy another country, one of their objectives is going to be to take over the existing institutions, or to suppress them, and if you can make these institutions exterritorial, take them out of reach of the potential attacker, you increase the political price of the attack.”

To this end, cooperation with other countries is vital for Estonia. As it heavily depends on other countries economically, one way of attacking the country could be to attack supply chains, or countries Estonia depends on. “This means that we need to build up proper cooperation with those other countries. Luckily we have a framework for this. Europe is the place where this is currently being trained, and where this kind of professional competence can be developed.”

The server system being set up in Luxemburg is the first of these data embassies, daily Eesti Päevaleht reported on Thursday. The paper quotes Mikk Lellsaar, head of the state cloud department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, who says that the data embassies will add a layer of security and digital resistance to Estonia’s data structure. “If something should happen to the data centers here or they can’t be accessed, then this data is still available somewhere outside Estonia,” Lellsaar told Päevaleht.

A memorandum of understanding was signed with Luxemburg last year concerning the data center, confirming the necessary political readiness on both sides. If everything goes according to plan, a detailed agreement will be signed this summer. Ideally, the data embassy could then go live towards the end of 2017.

According to advisor to the ministry’s state information systems department, Laura Kask, negotiations were held with other countries as well, but the ones with Luxembourg had developed the furthest. “For one thing, they offer data centers with a very high level of security, and for another they are quite similar to us in terms of their IT development and their way of thinking,” Kask said.

The two countries are currently legal as well as technical issues connected to setting up and running the data embassy. In terms of money, there are no exact figures available, but the data center in Luxemburg will be markedly more expensive than running a similar infrastructure in Estonia. There is one entry in the government’s schedule concerning the data embassies, showing an allocation of €240,000.

The physical location of the servers will remain secret, and only people will have access to them that are cleared by the Estonian state.

The data to be backed up in Luxembourg so far covers ten priority databases, including the information system of the Governmental Payments Office (the Estonian treasury), the pensions insurance register, the business register, the population register, the cadaster, and the identity documents database.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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