Are Preparations to Protect Japan’s Cyberspace Adequate?

Land, sea, air and space. In addition to these 4 war zones, now cyberspace is said to be the fifth war zone. Different from other war zones, it is an invisible place so that we, citizens rarely recognize the real risks in daily lives. However, criminals hiding in clouds of information increasingly have the capability to mount very sophisticated attacks, and we must not overlook risks in cyberspace. The problem of cyber attacks, or even we call them cyber terrorisms, is that they not only damage or steal information, they also they have the potential to seriously affect business and economic activities and even our lives.

The Abe administration is putting emphasis on promoting greater utilization of IT in government and industry as a key pillar of its growth strategy. This can be seen in the government’s “Declaration to be the World’s Most Advanced IT Nation by 2020” issued in June 2013, which “aims at realizing a society that, by utilizing IT, (1) promotes the creation of innovative new industries and services and growth in all industry fields; (2) is the world’s safest and most disaster-resilient, where people can live safely, with peace of mind, and comfortably; and (3) enables one-stop public services that anyone can access and use from anywhere, anytime.”

The declaration also gives attention to strategies on cyber security, in order to strengthen protection for IT-related activities. However, I believe that the government still lacks sufficient awareness as to the danger of cyberattacks, which will increase as Japan becomes more and more dependent on information technologies. Building a resilient and robust cyberspace, which can stop cyberattacks, is an economic as well as a security, since Japan is entering a period where everything will be connected to the Internet.

The government plan mostly focuses on the many positive aspects of an IT-based society, including the role of IT in disaster preparedness, the greater use of IT in delivering government services, including education and healthcare, and reliance on IT technologies to revitalize and reform agriculture. On the other hand, it does not clearly point out how to deal with the more negative aspects of IT-based society, such as the need to reinforce cyber security, which accounts for only one-third of a page out of 31-page document. Yet the fact is that failure to address the problem of cybersecurity may risk all the achievements of an IT-based society and endanger national security, which heavily depends on the use of IT.

What is worse, the government’s Cyber Security Strategy adopted on June 10, 2013 and renewed in 2014 and 2015 is not producing tangible results. For example, the strategy promise that the Government of Japan will carry out training for responding to large-scale cyberattacks with the participation of relevant government institutions and the private sector. However, the reality is that this training is conducted only once a year and that real coordination among the government ministries is still lacking.

The word “training” suggests that the government has an active and effective set of programs, but it is just words in the end. In fact, there are a lot of proposal in the strategy paper, which sound good, but are actually not being implemented. I think that the Government of Japan should rewrite its Cyber Security Strategy to make it workable and realistic and include it as a major part of its It strategy to make Japan the “World’s Most Advanced IT Nation.”

We citizens also need to do our job and pay more attention to cybersecurity issues. The number of public comments received during the recent review of the “Declaration to be the World’s Most Advanced IT Nation” came from 18 companies and organizations, and 32 individuals; for the Cyber Security Strategy, it was even worse: comments were submitted by only 15 companies and organizations, and 14 individuals.

At the same time, the cyber threat is exponentially increased. Already, cyberattacks on critical infrastructure in Japan, such as electric grid, water supply system, financial networks, nuclear power plants, or oil and natural gas sector, have been reported. Any impairment or disruption of the functions of “critical infrastructure” has the potential to paralyze the nation and damages the lives of people. It is urgent that the Government of Japan, companies and average citizens recognize the real threat from cyberattacks and take steps to safeguard the fifth war zone, cyber space.

Ari Mitsumoto

Ari Mitsumoto

Faculty of Law
Keio University
Ari is a member of Faculty of Law at Keio University.
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