Date: 14 May 2024

The Three Seas Initiative: A Vanguard in Digitization and Cybersecurity

Over the years, one country from the Three Seas region has consistently stood out not only in comparison to other European nations but also on the global stage. Its remarkable achievements in digitization and cybersecurity architecture have garnered attention and set it apart. This country, despite its small size and relatively modest raw material and demographic resources, occupies a significant place on both the European and global maps. Its strategic location in a geopolitically sensitive region further underscores its prominence. Our discussion centers on Estonia, a country that has consistently been at the forefront of digitization and cybersecurity and has for several years maintained a high position in the Global Cybersecurity Index.


https://uawire.org/estonia-voices-support-for-ukraine-joining-eu-and-nato

In 2007, Estonia experienced a series of cyber attacks that specifically targeted the country’s organizations, including the parliament, banks, ministries, newspapers, and broadcasters. Indeed, seventeen years ago, the cyber attacks Estonia faced acted as a driving force for the country’s digital transformation. Even before 2007, Estonia had already been at the forefront of digital transformation. The cyber attacks it experienced only served to fortify its security infrastructure in the long run. This ultimately led to the development and execution of specific cybersecurity strategies in the years that followed. Presently, the nation, with its capital in Tallinn, features a distributed architecture in its government administration. This structure enables the state to be managed in a decentralized manner beyond its geographical boundaries during times of crisis. In the face of rapid digital progress, security is often overlooked by many countries. However, Estonia sets itself apart by utilizing cutting-edge blockchain technology as a means of protection. Moreover, it has established secure authentication procedures. A cornerstone of Estonia’s digital architecture is X-Road, an open-source software that facilitates secure data exchange between the public and private sectors.

A contributing factor to Estonia’s success is the active participation and transparent exchange of information between the government and its citizens. People in Estonia are consistently kept informed about all cyber attacks, no matter how small their impact on national security. This approach ensures maximum transparency and effective crisis communication. Moreover, the authorities’ proficiency in debunking false information and unmasking attempts to impersonate public institutions has strengthened the citizens’ trust in their ability to ensure security. This has contributed to a safer and more informed society. In addition to promoting clear communication and building trust, Estonia also dedicates substantial resources to public education and training. The goal of this investment is to expand the cybersecurity knowledge and awareness of its citizens, thereby enhancing the country’s digital resilience.

Estonia has been successfully operating a range of effective public services for a considerable period. These services are designed to benefit both the government administration and the citizens themselves, thereby contributing to the overall efficiency of the country. Estonia has been at the forefront of digital innovation. The country has provided digital ID cards for over 20 years and introduced online voting in 2005. The rapid growth in the popularity of online voting among its citizens is a testament to the success of these digital initiatives. Furthermore, the electronic signature has been in existence for 14 years. The practice of Estonians submitting their tax returns online, along with the straightforward process of registering a business, greatly enhances economic progress. This user-friendly approach not only creates a positive business climate but also motivates citizens to venture into entrepreneurship.

Estonia’s success in digital transformation extends beyond its borders. The country is not only a pioneer in digitization and cybersecurity at home, but also advocates for these concepts on the global stage. Representatives of Estonia have consistently highlighted the importance of digitization and cybersecurity in various international forums, including the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union. During its tenure as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2020-2021, Estonia had an influential platform to advocate for and articulate the importance of reforms in cybersecurity and digital governance. Estonia’s strategic capabilities and significant geopolitical location led NATO to establish the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn in 2008. The center plays a crucial role in supporting NATO member states in the realm of cybersecurity. It provides comprehensive support, from theoretical knowledge to practical training, thereby enhancing the cybersecurity posture of NATO member states. Tallinn is not only the home of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, but also hosts the EU agency eu-LISA. This agency is tasked with the operational management of large-scale IT systems that are crucial for implementing EU policies, particularly those related to asylum, migration, and border management. 

The term cybersecurity is apt for the context provided and reflects Estonia’s present role in the global setting. It refers to the range of activities in the digital domain and the aspects of international cooperation in the cybersecurity field. Moreover, Estonia has institutions like the e-Governance Academy that specializes in educating and preparing representatives and administrative officials from various countries. The training covers important topics such as cybersecurity, e-services, digital transformation, and artificial intelligence. Estonia is investing more from its budget to enhance its administrative bodies across the nation. The National Cyber Security Centre is one of several entities established to safeguard national IT systems. Its primary role is to continuously monitor cyberspace and respond to incidents, ranging from minor issues to threats against critical infrastructure, to minimize their impact.

Without a doubt, Estonia will continue to prioritize digital policy in the upcoming years. Its successful strategies serve as a model for other countries in the Three Seas region. As geopolitical instability continues, the importance of cybersecurity is expected to rise. Estonia, along with other regional countries, has already demonstrated its capability to defend against various cyber threats, including DDoS attacks that have seen a surge following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Therefore, despite its relatively small size, Estonia possesses all the necessary resources to lead the region in cybersecurity and digital transformation. It has the potential to positively shape the development of these areas in neighboring countries. 

References:

  1. A. K. Piekarska, “Raport: Dezinformacja w Europie-Środkowo-Wschodniej”, The Warsaw Institute Review, Warsaw 2017, https://warsawinstitute.org/pl/the-warsaw-institute-pl/wydania/wydanie-specjalne-dezinformacja/.
  2. “Estonia as an international cybersecurity leader”, 2019, https://e-estonia.com/estonia-as-an-international-cybersecurity-leader/.
  3. J. Silaškova, M. Takahashi, “Estonia built one of the world’s most advanced digital societies. During COVID-19, that became a lifeline”, 2020, How Estonia’s digital society became a lifeline during COVID-19 | World Economic Forum (weforum.org).

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