Connecting the Dots

The Cyber Threat to Japan and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo

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Japan - target for Cyberattacks

In recent years, Japan has become a major target for cybercriminals, falling victim to multiple attacks, many of which resulted in huge loss of data, leaked information and serious damage to organizations’ finances and security status. The businesses targeted cross a broad range of segments from chemical, satellite, medical and food to automotive, communications, energy and finance. Among the most prominent cyber incidents in recent years are:
  • January 2018 – A Japan-based cryptocurrency exchange lost $530 million worth of cryptocurrency NEM in a hack – possibly the largest cryptocurrency heist of all time.
  • April-May 2017 – A global “ransomware” cyberattack hit computers at 600 locations in Japan. Cybersecurity researchers subsequently uncovered a growing cyber-espionage campaign originating in China, targeting construction, engineering, aerospace and telecom companies not only in Japan, but also in the U.S. and Europe.

    Japan cyber threat

  • September 2016 – Japanese Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces (SDF) communications networks linking SDF bases and camps were compromised.
  • May 2016 – An ATM heist involving around 1,400 machines in convenience stores resulted in the loss of 1.4 billion yen ($12.7 million).
  • June 2015 – Japan Pension Service (JPS) was hacked, resulting in the exfiltration of personal data belonging to 1.25 million people.
  • April 2012 – A hack of Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries resulted in more than 3,000 documents being exfiltrated to a foreign destination, including 20 classified documents on negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a broad free-trade agreement). According to press reports, the hackers searched Ministry computers for TPP documents, transferred all that were found a single computer, and then compressed them to make them easier to send.[1]
Cyberattacks in Japan

Cyber threats to Japan are becoming even more challenging as the country heads towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a platform that hostile cyber actors are likely to use to gain publicity, strategic advantage, and criminal profit. Japanese officials have already said that they are expecting to be targeted by a range of cyber threats, from phishing websites that sell fake entry tickets, to ransomware and cyber espionage, and even more extreme scenarios, like attacks against securing critical infrastructure.

The Olympic Games could provide an opportunity for actors, perhaps sponsored by other states, to target visiting politicians, journalists, and other individuals who may be sources of intelligence. The massive gathering in Tokyo presents cybercriminals with a huge audience and “easy prey”, whereby hacking compromised hotel and public WiFi networks and using malware will enable them to obtain sensitive information like credit card details etc. This is not mere speculation – it has happened in previous Olympic Games: major cyber attacks hit the  London Olympics in 2012, including DDoS attacks on power systems that lasted for 40 minutes, and at the Rio Olympics in 2016. The Japanese concern is therefore justified. 

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