Estonia tests a virtual data embassy with Microsoft

Last spring, Estonia’s IT leaders proposed an ambitious plan for the country: Estonia should be moved into the cloud, which would make occupying the country meaningless. This week, the country tested the idea with Microsoft.

According to the ambitious plan, suggested by a number of Estonian IT leaders, the state could move its critical information systems and databases into a state cloud with supporting “data embassies” all over the world. The concept suggests storing the data at Estonian embassies in friendly foreign countries as critical data and information systems need to be located within the country’s borders.

This week, the Estonian Centre of Registers and Information Systems (RIK), the justice ministry, the ministry of economic affairs and Microsoft tested the idea by hosting the website of the Electronic State Gazette of Estonia in a virtual data embassy, meaning in the international cloud service.

The director of RIK, Mehis Sihvart, specified that despite the fact the Electronic State Gazette only includes public information, it is nevertheless important to protect it from potential cyber-attacks, to ensure continuous access to legal information for the citizens and maintain the country’s international reputation.

“The Ministry of Justice of Estonia must ensure access to legal order at all times. The use of an international cloud service increases the capacity to resist cyber-attacks and enhances the reliability of information systems,” Sihvart said.

Taavi Kotka, Deputy Secretary General at the ministry of economic affairs, explained that the concept foresees the availability of services necessary for the functioning of the state and the digital continuity of key registers be maintained regardless of a crisis situation.

“Estonia depends on digital solutions. It is one of our great strengths but also a challenge – it is no longer possible to move back to paper era in several important fields. Physical and virtual data embassies help ensure the digital continuity of the country,” Kotka said.

Kotka emphasised that during the test, international cloud services were only used to keep public data like that of the Electronic State Gazette. Restricted data was not moved to the virtual data embassy in the framework of the research project.

Microsoft Azure cloud was used and the full functionality of the Electronic State Gazette, including the publication of and search for legal acts, when in the cloud, was tested.

A report describing the results and conclusions drawn will be made publicly available at the beginning of 2015.

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