Health Tech Matters

Estonia is unconcerned about a possible Russian cyberattack, president says

Key Points
  • Estonia became the first country to use blockchain on a national level
  • It invests 20 million euros ($22.85 million) into e-health programs each year.
Estonian president: We have a generation grown up communicating digitally

Cyberattacks, election meddling and other online crimes are not a massive concern for Estonia, where public services are highly digitalized, President Kersti Kaljulaid told CNBC on Monday.

The Baltic country has developed an extensive web of digital services that has allowed 99 percent of its public services to be electronic.

This means that in the health sector, for instance, all billing is conducted online, 99 percent of prescriptions are digital, and 99 percent of patients' health data is also digitized.

However, Estonia doesn't think that its digital society is especially vulnerable to external attacks, including from its neighbor Russia. The latter has been linked to several cyber-crimes, including an ongoing investigation into meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

When asked if Russian cyber mischief was a cause of concern, Kaljulaid told CNBC's Elizabeth Schulze: "We worry less than others actually, because we have a high level of digitalization and we started to protect ourselves when you know digital was still young… Our people have a high level of cyber-hygiene."

"Also because there is a state guarantee safe internet mode, which is our digital identity model. This means people automatically realized that, for example, Facebook is simply not safe, because you don't know with whom you are dealing with, even if they say I am this, they might be somebody else," she added.

Tallinn, Estonia
Nico Tondini | Getty Images

In an attempt to protect its data systems from cyberattacks, Estonia opted to have several small databases instead of one big government database. It has also established databases outside the country, as if these were embassies.

"We even have an agreement with Luxembourg on data embassy. A safe copy of Estonians' data information system can be found in Luxembourg and this machinery and equipment there enjoys the rights of an embassy. It's an Estonian territory like any embassy would be," Kaljulaid said.

Estonia's choice for a digital society goes further. It became the first country to use blockchain on a national level and it invests 20 million euros ($22.85 million) into e-health programs each year.

"It was not the question (of) firing people from civil service in order to cut costs and replace with digital," Kaljulaid said. "We simply are developing our service offer to our people… it was simply cheaper, easier (to do it digital) and people found it convenient."