NATO plans to set up a defence centre to research and help fight cyber warfare.

The Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence will operate out of Tallinn, Estonia, with a staff of 30. Half of the specialists at the centre will come from its seven sponsoring countries: Germany, Italy, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Estonia.

Cyber warfare has been on NATO's radar for the past year, following the widely-reported cyber attack against Estonia in May last year. The attacks, which security experts have compared to a poorly coordinated cyber brawl, succeeded in knocking some financial systems in the country off-line for several hours, prompting Estonia to ask for help from NATO.

The attacks were sparked by the relocation of the Soviet war memorial in downtown Tallinn, a move that angered the country's ethnic Russians. Russia was blamed for the attacks, although no Kremlin connection to the cyber-incident has been found.

Allied defense ministers pressed for a NATO cyber defence policy at their October 2007 meeting, a move that led to the creation of the Cyber Defense Center, said NATO.

The centre will help NATO "defy and successfully counter the threats in this area," said general James Mattis, NATO’s supreme allied commander, transformation.

The new cyber warfare centre is expected to be online in August and will be formally opened sometime in 2009.