International cooperation remains a barrier for police investigation into hacking scandals, particularly with sensitive targets like MHI

International cooperation remains a barrier for police investigation into hacking scandals, particularly with sensitive targets like MHI (Source: Namihei)

Prime Minister Noda is heading to China in December and one of the points on Noda’s agenda will be a request for Chinese help in hunting down the source of the cyber-attacks on Japanese defense manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and the attempted unauthorized access to other defense contractors including Kawasaki Heavy Industries and IHI. According to a Kyodo press release from yesterday, the prospects of cooperation are grim indeed.

A request for cooperation was made back in late September, according to the article, a month after the attack became known to MHI, and around the same time that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department were beginning to tie some of the server activities to Chinese sources. According to the release, “China said in its reply it would contact the relevant authorities, but there has been little progress since, leaving the investigation at a standstill.”

In 2001, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang and extracted an admission of guilt from the Dear Leader than North Korea had been involved in the abduction of Japanese citizens. Prime Minister Noda will not be so lucky in Beijing. It hardly seems likely that the Chinese government will give up what it knows in this case, particularly given the possibility that state-linked hackers could be involved. The extent of the Chinese connection is not fully known, and Beijing is likely to be happy with that.

Chinese hackers are believed to behind a number of orchestrated attacks on international and national organizations and businesses throughout the world. Whether the attacks are state-sponsored or not is almost impossible to determine, and China flat-out denies its involvement. However, the Chinese economy could be benefiting from the fruits of attacks such as those at MHI:

“We’re facing a massive transfer of wealth in the form of intellectual property that is unprecedented in history,” [Dmitri Alperovitch, McAfee's vice president of threat research] said, also writing in the report that “If even a fraction of it is used to build better competing products or beat a competitor at a key negotiation (due to having stolen the other team’s playbook), the loss represents a massive economic threat.”
- “Massive Cyber Attack Adds to Suspicions of Concerted Chinese Hacking” (IBT, Aug. 3 2011)

Nevertheless, there will be plenty of other things to talk about during Noda’s visit: naval passage of Chinese vessels through Japanese waters, aerial encroachment on Japanese airspace, the Senkaku islands dispute, to name but a few of only the security issues. However, with the 40th anniversary of normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations coming up next year, the year of the dragon incidentally, talks will likely seek a more positive note.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch