An entire country's data is getting backed up

estonia lead image

Protest against the demolition of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn in 2007, a World War II memorial commemorating the liberation of Estonia from Nazism by Soviet forces.

Credit: Leena Hietanen via Wikimedia Commons

The country of Estonia is backing up its entire government dataset, and also devising ways to operate through the cloud in the event of an attack by a foreign nation. Its neighbor is Russia.

We've all been experimenting with the cloud, if not adopting it fully with open arms. And we've all been performing local hard-drive backups. I ran my first backup onto half-a-dozen 3.5-inch floppy disks back in the early '90s, I'd guess.

Well, if you think your backup schedule and procedures have gotten bigger over the years, just think of poor Estonia.

Estonia is in the process of backing up its entire government. It's also building a cloud-based network for operating seamlessly if things go south, or east in its particular case.

Here's what's going on:

Digital embassies

Stage one of the precariously positioned country's plans has been the creation of "digital embassies," which are basically sets of computers located in diplomatic consulates and embassies abroad. Data is backed up there.

A second synergistic element being developed is the idea that data should be actually held outside of the country, Graeme Burton of the publication Computing says—it wouldn't reside in any way within the borders, so if Estonia were to be invaded, the data would be physically located outside of the reaches of any enemy.

Sky News, the UK-centric broadcaster, said in May 2014 that the UK was in advanced talks to be one of the hosts.

Encouraging 'strong digital identities'

Further synergy is created by the fact that Estonia's population is being primed to adopt "strong digital identities," as an article in the Economist describes it. Residents can digitally sign and encrypt documents when dealing with the government, as one example.

Not easy

As you can imagine, the whole thing is not all that easy to accomplish. One problem with the idea of all that data being held overseas is that you've got to keep it secure. If passwords are compromised, it's no different than keeping the resources on home ground.

Other issues include the general knee-jerk legalities related to data protection, and technical trouble—Internet naming protocols have been problematic.


They're trying to get it right. Estonia performed a "dry run" with Microsoft in September 2014. In that scenario, government services were operated using computers located within the country. They were then migrated abroad if "services became impossible," the Economist says.

One big issue that they have run into is related to moving important website Domain Name System (DNS) addresses during an attack—the DNS obviously needs to be pointed somewhere other than the local servers.

Software issues

Other problems relate to the fact that Estonia is so switched-on. Sky News, in its article, says that Estonia has arguably the most advanced digital government in the world.

And one of the problems with that is that custom software has to make the transition to the externally hosted cloud. Estonia has sophisticated, unique peer-to-peer network systems at play that share databases and exchange information.

Why go to these extremes?

Estonia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and experienced what the Economist says was the first instance of cyber-warfare in 2007. Websites were hit with traffic in a DDoS attack.

The hack coincided with a row over a Russian war memorial. The country's banking system was crippled at that time.

With the Financial Times reporting that a top national security official at the U.S. Department of Justice said this week that he's worried that the U.S. "is facing a 'pre-9/11 moment' in the race to defend against hackers," Estonia's ideas are likely worth taking a cold, hard look at.

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