Cyber threats prompt Japan, U.S. to bolster cooperation
Japan and the United States have agreed to strengthen their cyber security cooperation in recognition of the fact that state-sponsored cyber villains have in recent years launched attacks that crippled the networks of businesses, government agencies and healthcare facilities worldwide.
A joint statement issued by the Security Consultative Committee (SCC) in late April 2019 signaled that Japan and the U.S. would consider a cyber attack an action that potentially could trigger mutual defense requirements of the security treaty signed in 1960.
Michael MacArthur Bosack, a special advisor for government relations at the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies and previously the deputy chief of government relations for U.S. Forces Japan, called the SCC statement a “transformative step, not just for the Japan-U.S. alliance, but other U.S. alliances as well since it is the first such guarantee the United States has made in any of its bilateral alliances.”
Bosack, who wrote an opinion piece for The Japan Timesnewspaper, added that more work is needed, however, to clarify the cyber security roles of the partners. There is no international legal definition of an armed attack in cyberspace, he wrote. That leaves questions unanswered about what actions should be taken when an alliance partner is targeted.
The allies have growing concerns about the vulnerability of communications networks, utilities and governments. In its latest defense white paper, Japan said state-sponsored cyber attacks have been on the rise and are becoming more sophisticated.
Such attacks on communication networks of government and military forces “could have a serious effect on the security of states,” the white paper said. The SCC meeting brought together Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. (Pictured: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, greets Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono at the Department of State in Washington, D.C.)
While some cyber attacks are designed to steal information or money, others are meant to disrupt governments or businesses. The most recent worldwide threat assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, published in January 2019, said the sources of state-sponsored attacks are numerous. “China, Russia, Iran and North Korea increasingly use cyber operations to threaten both minds and machines in an expanding number of ways — to steal information, to influence our citizens, or to disrupt critical infrastructure,” the assessment said.
Some of the largest cyber attacks in the past few years originated in North Korea.
The U.S. government in September 2018 charged a North Korean man with the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack that locked up hundreds of thousands of computers at banks, businesses and hospitals in 150 countries. The attack caused billions of dollars in losses.
North Korean Park Jin Hyok was part of a state-sponsored hacking group, the U.S. said, that conducted a series of attacks, including the theft of U.S. $81 million from the Bangladesh Bank.
In the WannaCry attack, a malware worm locked the content of the affected computers, and users were asked to pay a ransom to have their data restored. The National Health Service in the United Kingdom was hit particularly hard with 48 facilities having to turn away patients for appointments or surgeries, according to a report by BBC News.