The Defense Ministry is considering strengthening its unit tasked with responding to cyberattacks by increasing the number of staff to around 1,000 from the current 110 and setting up a new group to study cyberattack techniques, a government source said Sunday.

The measures, to be reflected in the ministry's five-year defense buildup plan from fiscal 2019, are part of the government's efforts to counter cyberattacks ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, the source said.

But while the ministry apparently believes exploring cyberattack techniques will help to enhance its defenses against such attacks, the initiative could be viewed as an attempt to acquire cyberattack capabilities.

"It is indispensable to study methods of attacks to build an appropriate defense posture. It is not for the Self-Defense Forces themselves to conduct a cyberattack," the source said.

Under the plan, the staff of the unit, set up in March 2014 to respond to cyberattacks and monitor in-house networks at the ministry and the SDF, will be increased to around 1,000 by the end of fiscal 2023, the source said.

Given that the government has not yet decided whether the SDF is allowed to conduct cyberattacks, the new group will be restricted to studying techniques within the ministry and SDF networks, the source said.

Critics argue a cyberattack conducted by the SDF will contravene Japan's exclusively defense-oriented policy and could also violate the right to privacy of communications protected under the Constitution.