The Estonian Cyber National Guard

During his opening keynote speech at ICEGOV 2011 in Tallinn, Estonia, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves highlighted efforts of the Estonia’s Cyber Defense League, an operational arm of the country’s National Defense League.

An all volunteer force, the Cyber Defense League acts as a national guard to protect Estonia from cyber attack, following the major assault on country in 2007 by Russian hackers.

“Our country encourages IT professionals to contribute to national defense as part-time members of our cyber national guard,” said Ilves, these are young people “who are motivated, patriotic, and think it (contributing to national defense) is pretty cool.”

Traditional Barriers to National Service Removed

Recruits entering their country’s national service, such as the army, normally follow a similar track.  The first year of service provides an exercise in mental torture, mental strengthening, physical training, gathering skills to function in the infantry, and all the other training needed to bring a civilian into a basic level of competence for military service.

This standard routine serves to exclude individuals who may be far more interested in technology, academic pursuits, sciences, and to be honest, becoming serious network or software geeks.  While there may be an argument that military organizations have become much better in their cyber-warfare capabilities, it can also be argued many of the best minds in a country are those developing technology systems, rather than super users.

Estonia, home of Skype and other global software initiatives, is harnessing the power of their intellectual resources in a positive way, which also promotes national security, pride, and patriotism.

Cyber Weekend Warriors

The Cyber Defense League (CDL) is a uniformed service, equal in stature and responsibility to other arms of the National Defense League.  Recruits require security clearances, and are available for mobilization in the event of a national emergency – regardless of the nature of that emergency.

CDL members muster for weekend duty, exercises, and additional cyber security and warfare training.

Cooperation between private industry and national defense is much closer than in countries such as the US, where even during national emergencies commercial companies are rarely engaged in immediate cyber attack and response – at least not in full cooperation with the government or military.  There may be representation in groups such as the CERT, however even those organizations generally act outside the scope of national defense.

In Estonia, now commercial companies and many of their employees are an inherent component of the national cyber defense.

… Be Cyber Strong

So, if we consider a model of supplementing national security by recruiting engineers, developers, and technicians in a single model location such as the Silicon Valley, train them to extend their skills to support national defense, complete a background check and offer a security clearance, what would the potential impact be on reinforcing our California or national Cyber Protection capacity?

Add more highly skilled engineers from other technology “industry cluster” states to the defense system, and it is highly probable that we will make great strides in further strengthening our local and national cyber defense.

Of course in the United States we do have to get over some additional concerns, such as suspicion among many in Internet and technology communities who may not fully trust the intentions of the government.

The burden is on the government to establish programs, develop a thought leadership campaign to build a sense of service and pride, and then fully embrace extremely motivated and intelligent IT professionals into the military community.

One of those programs is the DOD’s Defense Industrial Base Cyber Pilot, which allows the DoD to share some information with private enterprise regarding threats to security. However it is clearly a superficial attempt, and does not seek to actively engage those who potentially have the best skills to offer.

Estonia is a small country, struggling to break free of the social and institutional constraints imposed by nearly 70 years of Soviet and Nazi occupation, and economic restrains of a global recession.  A country with a motivated workforce, and a need to protect all their national wired resource from theft, exploitation, and attack.

The Cyber Defense League is a very unique, and creative step to provide that security and protection.

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