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  • Secrecy, Shame and Lack of Policy Hinder Japan's Cyber-defenses
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 3:48 PM on Oct 26, 2011

    There’s a great deal of cyberpain in Tokyo.

    On Monday, government officials said that sensitive data involving combat aircraft and navy ships as well as nuclear power plant designs and safety plans were stolen from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. computers during a cyber-intrusion in August. An internal investigation by the company “found signs that the information had been transmitted outside the company’s computer network … due to a computer virus … with the strong possibility that an outsider was involved,” reported Tokyo’s Asahi Shimbun news service.

    The break-in, which infected 83 computers in 12 locations, was conducted in August. It was reported to law enforcement officials in September. The sites included the Kobe and Nagasaki shipyards and a Nagoya facility that builds guided missile systems.

    On Wednesday Mitsubishi Heavy Industries acknowledged the cyberleak and named the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s SH-60 helicopter as a target of the intrusion. The company has yet to confirm that data on its products had actually been stolen.

    The revelation was disturbing enough to trigger an editorial from the Asahi Shimbun that noted malware attacks have increased sixfold in the past four years, according to data assembled by the the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The editorial criticized the government for not taking urgent measures to protect their computer systems, despite the long-known dangers.

    “One major factor behind the lag is the tendency among Japanese companies to avoid publicizing the fact they have been targeted by hackers, and to try dealing with cyber-attacks in secret instead,” the editorial said.  “This reluctance to report attacks to the authorities, due mainly to the companies' fear that such a revelation may weaken public confidence in them, has made it difficult for governmental entities and the police to get a clear picture of the problem.  [Moreover,] there is no provision that clearly gives the Defense Ministry or any other part of the government the legal powers required for an effective policy response. It is left to individual companies to protect their information networks.”
     
    Tuesday held another surprise when lawmakers in parliament revealed they had been victimized in a cyber-raid mounted from a server in China that stole user ID codes and passwords of Lower House members and their secretaries who use the chamber's computer network. The intrusion gave access to e-mails and documents of 480 lawmakers for at least a month ending in late August, say investigators.

    U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in Tokyo to visit Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa, didn’t assign blame to the Chinese government directly but he named cyberspace as the “battlefield of the future.”

    “We stated our desire to continue to work together [with Japan] to strengthen bilateral security cooperation . . . to more effectively address the many shared challenges that we face,” Panetta said in a joint press conference. “We will work to encourage China's emergence as a responsible and positive partner in building regional stability and prosperity, cooperating on global issues and upholding international norms and rules of behavior.”

    One of the big problems is that China wants regional cyber-agreements with lots of rules to control internal network use, but no external law enforcement obligations for those launching international cyberattacks. The U.S., on the other hand, wants “hot pursuit” of cyberattackers or criminals across national borders. The debate goes on, but meanwhile China has been involved in massive industrial and military spying of the U.S. and others.

    The U.S. has completed a cyber-agreement with Australia to share information and joint cyber-operations. While in Japan, Panetta discussed “that same kind of approach with Japan so that we can improve our capability to defend against these kinds of attacks,” he said. “There are a number of countries that are involved on this issue, both on the offense and the defense. Most important, right now, is that the world community needs to work together to develop standards of how we approach this issue, because this is of concern. It is the battlefield of the future.”

    A server computer in the parliament was infected with a computer virus after a Lower House member opened a file attached to an e-mail message in July, said the Asahi Shimbun report. The intrusion targeted confidential information on national politics as well as foreign and defense policies. The virus breached the firewall when the lawmaker’s computer was connected to the chamber’s computer network. The personal computers of members and officials were infected after the program stole their ID codes and passwords.

    Tags: cyber, Japan, ar99

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