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7 Mar 2022
Is a 'data embassy' capable of mitigating the impact of a potentially crippling cyberattack?
With Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the relatively unknown concept of a data embassy is gaining renewed attention. As Russia threatens almost daily that countries supporting Ukraine will suffer severe consequences, more and more countries worry that their economies, governments, and societies will be destroyed by cyber attacks.
Estonia was the first country to be hit by such an unprecedented cyberattack. This occurred in 2007 and ever since, the small Baltic nation has been working on a solution. Along with investing substantial amounts of money in developing its own cybersecurity expertise and infrastructure, the country came up with the concept of a data embassy.
A data embassy is a facility in another country where a country can store massive amounts of data essential to the functioning of their economy and society. At such a facility, the information technology needed to use these data sets will also be stored.
Such a facility includes one or more data centers, preferably in a physically safe location, where massive amounts of data can be stored and which are both physically and digitally protected. An example of such a safe physical location would be a data center located inside a mountain. Such facilities are available in countries like Switzerland and Norway. In many cases, they are remnants of the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union.
In 2007, the only location suitable for such a data embassy was Luxembourg, a small European nation. In addition to having a physical location available, they also had the technical know-how and infrastructure in place.
It is not only the current war between the Ukraine and Russia that makes data embassies a hot topic today. There are currently around forty locations around the globe where two of more countries or groups of people are in conflict with each other. Because cyber warfare is capable of crippling a country's government structure or economy, having access to important datasets during massive cyber attacks is crucial. In particular, for countries that are developing their digital economy and digital government. A country may not be able to govern and defend itself if it can no longer access and use crucial data.
Despite the crippling cyber attack Estonia suffered in 2007, it has now become one of the world's leading digital countries. According to the e-Estonia website: ‘In Estonia, 99 percent of public services are available online 24 hours a day. E-services are only impossible for marriages and divorces – you still have to get out of the house for those’.
Estonians are very transparent about their concept of a data embassy. According to the same government website: ‘Data Embassy is an extension in the cloud of the Estonian government, which means the state owns server resources outside its territorial boundaries. This is an innovative concept for handling state information, since states usually store their information within their physical boundaries. Data Embassy resources are under Estonian state control, secured against cyberattacks or crisis situations with KSI Blockchain technology, and are capable not only providing data backups, but also operating the most critical services’.
The Estonian data embassy in Luxembourg is technically speaking completely under Estonian control. In addition, the facility has the same rights as physical embassies have, such as immunity.
Photo credit: Cedric Letsch
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