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China’s cyber espionage targeting Japanese Defense networks raises concerns

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Alarming revelations have emerged regarding China’s alleged hacking of sensitive Japanese defense networks, casting a shadow over Tokyo’s classified information security. Japan’s Defense Chief addressed the issue on Tuesday, stating that the country has yet to confirm whether top-secret data was compromised, following a report by a U.S. media outlet detailing China’s purported cyber intrusion into Japan’s classified defense systems.

The breach, which reportedly unfolded in the fall of 2020, targeted Japan’s “most sensitive computer systems,” specifically the Defense Ministry’s classified defense networks. Citing sources within the former senior U.S. officials, The Washington Post disclosed that the hackers exhibited deep and persistent access, indicating an intention to acquire a broad spectrum of confidential information, including plans, capabilities, and military assessments.

One former U.S. military official who was briefed on the incident described it as “bad — shockingly bad,” highlighting the gravity of the situation.

In response to the report, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, during a news conference in Tokyo, refrained from confirming its accuracy. While he acknowledged the close communication between Japan and the U.S., Hamada emphasized that no confirmation had been obtained regarding the leakage of confidential Defense Ministry information due to a cyberattack. He further stated that there had been no reported instances of operational disruption caused by a cyberattack.

According to The Washington Post, National Security Agency chief Gen. Paul Nakasone and then-White House deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger swiftly traveled to Tokyo following the discovery of the breach. They briefed the defense minister of the time, who, in turn, arranged for them to inform the prime minister directly.

Despite initial efforts, the cyber espionage persisted into 2021, prompting concerns among some American officials that Japan might be downplaying the situation. U.S. sources indicated that Tokyo’s security measures were still vulnerable to cyber threats from Beijing, potentially impacting intelligence sharing between the Defense Ministry and the Pentagon.

To counter such vulnerabilities, Japan unveiled plans to bolster its cyber capabilities. The nation aims to increase its number of cyberspecialists in the Self-Defense Forces to around 4,000 and expand the total cyber-related personnel within the Defense Ministry, including the SDF unit, to approximately 20,000 by March 2028. These initiatives, outlined in key national security documents released in December, reflect Japan’s commitment to enhancing its defense against cyber intrusions.

The revelation of China’s alleged involvement in the cyberattack on Japanese defense networks further underscores the escalating challenge faced by both Japan and the United States in guarding against Beijing’s relentless cyber capabilities. With China’s history of state-sponsored cyberattacks and its demonstrated capacity to infiltrate critical infrastructures and access sensitive information, the need for robust cybersecurity measures has become a pressing concern for the global community.

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