Japan sets up task force to tackle cyber-attacks

June 30, 2012

By SATOSHI OKAMOTO/ Staff Writer

The government set up a task force June 29 to help its ministries and agencies respond to growing cyber-attacks and contain the spread of damage.

The Cyber Incident Mobile Assistant Team was established at the Cabinet Secretariat’s National Information Security Center. The center, set up in 2005, monitors the status of computer servers at government offices around the clock.

The CYMAT came into being after Japan and other countries realized they needed a full-proof way to guard against cyber-attacks designed to steal sensitive data, including information on national defense.

In the past, most cyber-attacks were set in motion by hackers wanting simply to show off their technological prowess and expertise. But nowadays, the goal is often to access sensitive information.

“We formed the (CYMAT) team, comprising employees from various government ministries and agencies, to provide flexible and prompt assistance in response to cyber-attacks,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura at a June 29 news conference.

It is becoming harder for ministries and agencies to deal with cyber-attacks individually because hacking is getting more complex and sophisticated.

While accumulating the know-how to tackle cyber-attacks, CYMAT is expected to assist them in recovering their websites, investigate the attacks and prevent a recurrence.

The team began with 26 members, but will ultimately have a force of about 40.

On June 26, the Finance Ministry suspended one of its websites after it had been alerted that some of the content had been falsified. The websites for the Supreme Court and the Intellectual Property High Court became temporarily inaccessible the same day.

The incidents came after a group of international hackers called "Anonymous" issued a statement the day before, saying it would target the Japanese government for its revision of the copyright law.

Cyber-attacks are increasingly being regarded as a national security issue.

Many countries draw up safeguard measures against cyber-attacks as part of military strategy.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba suggested at a government meeting on information security in April that international law can be applied to cyberspace.

But many experts say it is still unclear under international law if cyber-attacks are acknowledged as armed attacks, if cyberspace is considered “territory” and how cyber-attacks differ from conventional criminal acts.

Senior officials at the Cabinet Secretariat acknowledged that it is difficult to exercise the right of self-defense against cyber-attacks.

“We have yet to consider concrete steps toward making international rules (to apply in defense of cyber-attacks),” an official said.

By SATOSHI OKAMOTO/ Staff Writer
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