Mon, Jul 17, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Estonia to open first ‘data embassy’

ZERO DOWNTIME:The Baltic nation, which is heavily reliant on digital services, is to store all of its essential data in a secured state-run facility in Luxembourg


Cyber-savvy Estonia has taken yet another step forward in global technology, as the Baltic state is set to open the world’s first data embassy in Luxembourg early next year.

The heavily protected server room will contain important Estonian e-government data, so that the NATO and eurozone members can access it even when systems are down at home.

“Data security and cyber security are generally crucial from the perspective of both people’s confidence and the functioning of services,” Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas said last month. “It is also an important part of so-called daily digital hygiene in increasingly digitizing societies.”

Ratas released the statement after signing an agreement with Luxembourgian Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on housing Estonian data there.

“This is the first data embassy in the world,” said Ratas, whose country of just 1.3 million people has been dubbed E-stonia for being a trailblazer in technology.

After five decades of Soviet rule ended in 1991, Estonia opted to go high-tech as fast as possible and still outstrips other members of the EU, which it joined in 2004.

One of the most connected countries in the world, the Baltic state has made most public services accessible at a special state portal and even pioneered e-voting in 2005.

The capital, Tallinn, is home to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, where data experts from across Europe and the US work to protect the information networks of the alliance’s 29 member states.

Estonia has bitter experience in the field: A politically charged dispute with its Soviet-era master Moscow in 2007 was marked by a blistering cyberattack blamed on Russian hackers — though the Kremlin denied any involvement.

The attack lasted two weeks and took scores of Web sites offline, including those of the parliament, banks, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters. One year later, the Tallinn-based NATO cyberdefense center was up and running.

Work on using international cloud services to back up Estonia’s e-government data began in 2014, when the country joined forces with Microsoft to try storing a state gazette on the cloud. The data embassy in Luxembourg will notably back up information regarding taxes, land, businesses, identity documents, pensions, legislation and the census.

“The virtual data embassy’s main goal is to guarantee the country’s digital continuity: the capacity to start the systems when necessary and retrieve data from externally stored versions,” Estonian Ministry of Economics and Communication spokeswoman Emilie Toomela said.

“For this, Estonia needs additional server resources that should be completely controlled by Estonia — this means that they should be subject to the same clauses as Estonia’s physical embassies — for instance, immunity — but should be situated outside Estonia,” she said.

Although there is a consulate in Luxembourg, Estonia’s ambassador to Luxembourg and Belgium lives in Brussels.

Toomela said the data embassy is to have no direct link to the embassy in Brussels, nor will it have any people working there.

“Luxembourg was chosen for its state-owned, high-security, Tier 4 certified data centers, the likes of which Estonia does not have and also because Luxembourg is ready to guarantee diplomatic privileges to Estonian data and infosystems,” she added.

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