Estonia arrests alleged Russian agent plotting cyber-crime

Tallinn (AFP) –


Estonia said Tuesday it had arrested a suspected Russian spy allegedly plotting a cyber-crime, in the latest incident to strain relations between the small Baltic state and the Kremlin.

The Estonian prosecutor general's office said the unnamed man was suspected of working for Russia's FSB Federal Security Service and of planning a cyber attack targeting state institutions.

"Right now we can say without revealing any details that we've managed to prevent serious damage," Inna Ombler, the state prosecutor in charge of the investigation said in a statement.

Ombler added that the suspect's activities were not connected to an unprecedented electronic ID-card security risk that recently hit the cyber-savvy country.

Dubbed "E-stonia", the eurozone state of 1.3 million people is regarded as being one of the world's most wired nations, with its citizens able to use electronic ID cards to access virtually all public services online via its vast "e-government" portal.

But as of Friday midnight, Tallinn suspended security certificates for up to 760,000 state-issued electronic ID-cards with faulty chips to mitigate the risk of identity theft.

Prime Minister Juri Ratas denied knowledge of any incidents of identity theft as he urged ID-card holders to download an update to patch the flaw in the Swiss-made chips that makes them vulnerable to malware.

Estonia and its neighbours Latvia and Lithuania -- all EU and NATO members -- have been spooked by their Soviet-era master Russia's actions since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The tensions have led to a spike in espionage affairs and Russia expelled two Estonian diplomats in May after Tallinn booted out its representatives over spying allegations.

In July, a Lithuanian court sentenced a Russian security official to 10 years in prison for spying after prosecutors accused him of attempting to bug the home of President Dalia Grybauskaite.

NATO has deployed four multinational battalions to the three Baltic states and Poland in a sign it is ready to defend any members of the military alliance from a potential attack by Russia.

The Kremlin has denied any territorial ambitions and claims that NATO is trying to encircle Russia.