TOKYO: The number of cyber attacks in Japan is surging as hackers try to exploit the country’s weak defences. Japan has lagged other advanced nations in updating systems to detect attacks and protect data, according to cyber security experts.
Japanese businesses, in particular, rely heavily on outside vendors for systems development and have been slow to fix software once vulnerabilities are discovered.
A midsize hospital on the southern island of Shikoku suffered a ransomware attack in 2021. Problems with its security systems were made public in May 2019, but the hospital took little action to correct them.
The hospital used different vendors to develop systems for managing overall business operations and patient data. Neither had taken adequate measures to protect the systems from cyber attacks. A damage report, published in June 2022, pointed out shortcomings in systems oversight and support at the hospital.
The hospital is no exception. Many Japanese companies have been slow to fix systems once weaknesses have been spotted. When vulnerabilities in Pulse Secure virtual private networking devices were reported in August 2019, only 9% of units used in Japan had their software patched within a week of the discovery, compared to 49% in Germany and 31% in the US, according to Bad Packets, a cyber security research company in the US.
Neither is Japan skilled at detecting cyber attacks. In a survey by Tokyo-based cyber security company Trend Micro, only 34.5% of IT officials at Japanese companies said they could detect ransomware attacks at an early stage, compared with an overseas average of 42.2%. Businesses are also slow to detect data leaks and digital probes after break-ins. They often recognise cyberattacks only after damage has been done.
Overseas hackers appear well aware of problems with Japan’s cyber defences. On average, about 7,800 cases of unauthorised access – nearly all of them from abroad – were detected daily in the first half of 2022, double the number for all of 2019, according to the National Police Agency.
“The Japanese language used to serve as a barrier against cyber attacks,” said Takashi Matsumoto in charge of cyber security at Japanese internet company DeNA, “but that shield has been mostly gone due to the advance in translation software.”
Worldwide, ransomware attacks peaked in the summer of 2021, according to US cyber security company SonicWall.
Japan’s weak cyber defence stems from its old practice of outsourcing the development and management of security systems to outside vendors without fostering in-house experts. A survey of 1,000 cyber security officials at major Japanese businesses found 80% of the companies have never changed their main vendors, according to DreamArts, a Tokyo-based cloud services provider.
“Many Japanese companies rely on specific vendors for systems development and maintenance, and are short on personnel willing to play an active role in making their systems less vulnerable [to cyber attacks],” said Kensuke Ishida, chief technology officer at DreamArts.
Also on the rise is the number of state-backed cyber attacks designed to steal confidential information about key infrastructure or technology. Even small and midsize companies in supply chains have become targets. A small security breach could cause serious damage to society at large, one expert said.
Outside Japan, countries are quick to act. When a vulnerability in Apache Log4j, a popular software library for logging messages in applications, was discovered in December 2021, the US government urged users to take immediate countermeasures and warned of legal consequences if they did not. Russia actually exploited this vulnerability in its cyber attack on Ukraine.
The Japanese government has begun to build a system to forestall cyber attacks after drawing up a national security strategy to reinforce the country’s cyber defences. Businesses should also get serious about their defences – or risk fresh attacks from hackers.