Japan seeks cyberwarfare capability

Tokyo looks to U.S. for ways to keep computer systems safe


Discussions are under way to decide if Japan should have the ability to counter cyberattacks by a foreign nation, according to a government source.

This would include being able to attack a server in self-defense if government computer systems were attacked, the source said.

Japan is looking for deterrents to cyberattacks, which have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, the source said, adding the government plans to cooperate with the United States, which has sophisticated counterattack technology.

The government plans to set up a “cyberdefense task force” within the Self-Defense Forces next March, the source said.

The midterm defense capability buildup outline adopted this week by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe states that the government will “examine a policy option for obtaining a capability to obstruct an enemy’s cyberspace use.”

The Defense Ministry and other government agencies have begun compiling concrete measures to wage a counterattack, the source said.

As one technique, they are considering waging distributed denial-of-service attacks that send huge amounts of data to offending servers, the source said.

For this, a senior defense official said, U.S. cooperation is indispensable because identifying the source of a cyberattack requires very sophisticated computer technology.

But counterattacks might also violate a Japanese law banning unauthorized access to servers and computers.

And if a server were in a foreign country or if Japan waged a counterattack pre-emptively, such action might be viewed as violating the key constitutional principle of limiting Japan’s responses to foreign aggression only to defensive actions.

So the government plans to scrutinize the legal problems that might arise in obtaining counterattack capability, the source said.

A cyberattack refers to enemy intrusions into the computer systems of a government agency, military installation or private company online that cause disruptions to the functions of the systems or tamper with the data held at such targets.

After the government bought several of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea from their Japanese owner in September 2012, the home pages of some ministries and agencies were attacked and defaced by intruders.

Unauthorized access from Chinese sources was later found to account for a major portion of the cyberattacks.