TALLINN – Estonia announced Tuesday it was drafting in its newborn cyber-squad to ward off potential attacks on the Baltic state’s pioneering e-voting system in its looming general election.
“The cyber-unit of the Estonian Defence League will keep an eye on Internet traffic and will react in the event of any attack,” Heiki Sibul, chairman of the national electoral commission, told reporters.
After five decades of Soviet rule ended in 1991, Estonia opted to go hi-tech as fast as possible. The European Union nation of 1.3 million became one of the world’s most cyber-focused nations, earning the nickname “E-stonia”.
Since falling victim to a politically-charged “cyber-war” in 2007 widely blamed on Russian hackers, it has become a leading light in fending off online attacks, and hosts NATO’s IT-defence facility.
It created a volunteer unit of cyber-experts late last year within the Estonian Defence League, a part-time force equivalent to the National Guard in the United States.
Estonians who don’t want to cast ballots in person on March 6 have the right to vote online between February 24 and March 2.
The country is a pioneer in e-voting, having pioneered it in local elections in 2005.
More than 9,000 people — two percent of turnout — went online for that ballot.
Since then, the system’s popularity has grown.
By the 2007 general election, 30,000 people, or five percent of turnout, chose it. In Estonia’s 2009 European parliament vote, the number was 58,000, or 15 percent.
In last October’s local elections, 104,000 people, or 16 percent, chose the online ballot.
But there is still a way to go for e-voting to catch up with other online options. For example, 92 percent of Estonian taxpayers filed their 2009 annual income tax returns via the Internet.
To fight electoral fraud, the system relies on encoded ID cards, with which Estonians can also access virtually all public services at a special state portal.
Like a traditional paper ballot, the online system has safeguards to ensure a voter’s choice remains confidential.