The Russian government has offered no cooperation to Estonia in tracking down the true source of these botnets.56 In many ways, the internet is the perfect platform for plausible deniability. An Estonian criminal investigation has been opened into the attacks under felonies of computer sabotage and interference with the working of a computer network, each punishable by up to three years in prison. Since many alleged hackers were Russian, Estonia submitted a request for bilateral investigation under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (“MALT”) between Estonia and Russia. Despite earlier promises of assistance though, the Russian Supreme Procurature refused assistance to Estonia under the treaty. This episode demonstrates the weaknesses of MALTs given that such agreements lack mandatory enforcement mechanisms. A future international accord for cyber security would need to incorporate compulsory reparations for proven breaches of the agreement. Ultimately the only conviction from the cyber attack was on January 24, 2008 when an ethnic Russian student living in Tallinn was found guilty of launching an assault on the Reform Party’s website of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and posting a fake letter of apology for removing the symbolic Soviet statue. He was fined $1,642.57
A month after the attacks, assessments conducted by the U.S. government and several private sector contractors determined that the cyber attacks were most likely carried out by politically motivated hacker gangs (such as Nashi su), not Russian security agencies directly.58 In the report Mike Witt, deputy director of the U.S. Cyber
56 Botnets are typically used for mass spam distribution, accounting for roughly half of the world’s daily email flows. BBC News, supra note 3.
57 Jeremy Kirk, Student fined for attack against Estonian Web site, IDG News Service, Jan. 24, 2008 (reporting that a 20-year-old Estonian student has been fined $1,642 for launching a cyber attack that crippled the websites of banks, schools, and government agencies).
58 Waterman, supra note 52.