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Backing Up an Entire Country's Data

We all know how important it is to have copies of our own data, but that pales in comparison when it comes to backing up an entire country’s data. But while most of us are just backing up our data in case of mechanical or logical damage to the drive, Estonia is trying to figure out how to back up the country if it was attacked by Russia.

Estonia is no stranger to the digital world and has taken large steps when it comes to making its governmental services available online. Every resident has a digital identity, which allows their citizens to sign and encrypt documents, use ecommerce systems and access government services.

Their latest project is for digital continuity. It’s one of their most ambitious projects to date and protects against a true threat: if the Estonian government is invaded, they will still be able to fully function over the internet through services and payments. Any enterprises seeking information on disaster recovery should pay attention to this high scale operation.

Estonia was previously occupied by the Soviet Union, but gained its independence once more in 1991. It was believed to be the first target of cyber-warfare when its main websites were taken down due to a denial of service attack from Russia, over a dispute involving a war memorial. The attack took the country’s banking system online and nearly took out their emergency services. Currently, the country are battling against airspace invasions and propaganda attacks.

Estonia carried out their first test of digital continuity in 2004 with aid from Microsoft. Part of this test involved maintaining online government services by using backup systems located in Estonia. If that then failed, the services would move offshore. For example, the president’s website was moved into the cloud, courtesy of Microsoft’s data centres in Dublin and Amsterdam.

A complication came with the State Gazette, which is where all of the laws are stored – they have no physical presence. The data was backed up, but the service was also stress tested. One test involved an increase load of people accessing and the other a test for the system being inundated with fake requests.

While it was mostly successful, there were some issues that were raised. Estonian authorities and Microsoft said in a joint report that “no matter how ready you think you are, you are never ready enough,” which is sage advice for every enterprise – never rest on your laurels.

Some of the problems included legal ones, like where user’s personal data is physically stored – if sent abroad, there needs to be assurances that the data is safe. On top of this, different countries have different data laws.

They also found that the architecture of their systems aren’t well documented, which meant that only a small number of experts actually understood the system. This isn’t wise when seeking continuity – there always needs to be clear instructions so that the knowledge isn’t bound to individuals.

It’s easier said than done, but the better your data and networks are organised, the standardisation of them and the documentation too, the easier it is to achieve smooth back up.


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