Japan, fearing it could be a soft target for possible North Korean cyberattacks in the escalating row over the Sony Pictures hack, has begun working to ensure its basic infrastructure will remain safe and to formulate its diplomatic response, officials said.
The hacking of the U.S. unit of Tokyo-based Sony Corp. has been seen in Japan largely as an American problem, but the officials said the government is now moving actively to confront the issue after U.S. President Barack Obama blamed North Korea and vowed to respond “in a place and time and manner that we choose.”
Cyberdefense experts, diplomats and policymakers worked through the weekend at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office to launch the effort, said one official involved in the process.
The government is working to ensure that in response to any threat, its basic functions will continue in the face of any cyberattack, while maintaining such essential services as the power grid, gas supplies and transportation networks, he said.
He declined to offer details.
The National Information Security Center, working through various ministries, is pressing companies to improve security against cyberattacks, the officials said.
The attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment by a group calling itself Guardians of Peace was the biggest hacking of a company on U.S. soil. In addition to bringing down the movie studio’s computer network, it also prompted the leak of embarrassing email, sensitive employee data and unreleased movies.
Sony executives in Tokyo have declined comment on the hacking, but a company source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said officials at headquarters are bracing for further attacks prompted by the decision to release the “The Interview.”
Sony Pictures originally decided to pull the comedy portraying a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as major theater chains canceled plans to show it after unspecified threats.
On Tuesday it reversed its decision, announcing a limited release in over 200 U.S. cinemas.
The parent is “bolstering communication” among Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai, Sony Pictures Entertainment Chief Executive Michael Lynton, Nicole Seligman, chief of Sony Corporation of America, and Chief Information Security Officer John Scimone, the source said.
Japanese diplomacy has been complicated by accusations made by its ally, the United States, that Pyongyang was behind the cyberattack.
Abe may be forced to choose between backing Washington and keeping talks on track with Pyongyang about Japanese citizens abducted decades ago.
“Japan is maintaining close contact with the United States and supporting their handling of this case,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday, adding that Tokyo is sharing data with Washington.
Suga said he sees no adverse effects on Tokyo’s talks with North Korea over the abduction issue. Pyongyang denies any role in the Sony hack.
Japan’s officials have acknowledged the government cannot keep up with the proliferation of attacks by private or state-sponsored hackers. Its firms are also vulnerable, with an overall security rating of just 58.5 out of 100, according to cybersecurity firm Trend Micro.
Only IT firms and Internet providers got passing marks of 72 or better, while welfare services, medical facilities and transportation and infrastructure networks were notably weak.
Noting the state of today’s networked society, one expert said no promises could be made.
“There is no way you can guarantee that hackers won’t gain access,” said Itsuro Nishimoto, chief technology officer at LAC Co., a cybersecurity firm that works with Japanese police and companies. “The only way you can do that would be to shut down the Internet.”