BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO defense ministers agreed on Thursday that fast action was needed to tackle the threat of "cyber attacks" on key Internet sites after Estonia suffered a wave of assaults on its computer networks last month.
"There was sentiment round the table that urgent work is needed to enhance the ability to protect information systems of critical importance," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told a news conference at a two-day meeting in Brussels.
"They (the attacks on Estonia) were sustained, coordinated and focused. They had clear national security and economic implications," he said. "That will be the subject of work here."
Estonia suffered an onslaught of cyber attacks on private and government Internet sites, peaking in May after a decision to move a Soviet-era statue from a square in Tallinn prompted outrage from Russian nationals in Estonia and a diplomatic row with Moscow.
The attacks appeared to have stemmed initially from Russia although the Kremlin denied it was behind the assaults.
Network specialists said the attacks consisted of a barrage of clicks on a given Web site, leading to overload. Some sites faced up to 1,000 clicks a second, compared with a normal level of 1,000 to 1,500 clicks a day.
Estonia said they affected thousands of sites and were akin to a terrorist attack in their potential to cripple key infrastructure. It urged NATO to recognize such incidents as an emerging threat.
"We got more support than we expected, particularly with this acknowledgement of an urgent need to react," Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo told Reuters during a break in the meeting.
NATO officials said the 26-member alliance, which sent a technology expert to Estonia at the height of the onslaught, would study how it could step up existing work within NATO and national capitals on tackling the cyber threat.