In an effort to bolster its defenses against cyber attacks, Japan held its first government-sanctioned hacking contest, which culminated February 3 in Tokyo.
According to a report on NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, Masahiro Uemura, an official with the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry, said these kinds of contests are common in other countries and are used to develop a domestic pool of cyber security experts. He added that Japan has a shortage of experts and is looking for ways to foster them.
“Hacking techniques are getting more complicated and sophisticated,” he said. “We need this kind of contest to fight back and survive.”
In September of 2012, Japan faced an onslaught of cyber attacks after the government purchased the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, also claimed by China. The attacks targeted government websites as well as those of universities, banks and hospitals. The attacks are believed to have emanated from China.
Hacking competitions are new to Japan where they were largely avoided for fear they would encourage cyber crime.
The contest pitted nine teams of four, all winners from previous regional rounds. They were tasked with stealing data and deciphering codes. A team of internet security workers from Tokyo won the contest.
“You can’t defend yourself unless you know how the hackers will attack,” one member of the winning team told NHK.
Last November, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission issued a report saying state-sponsored hackers often have stolen sensitive information from the United States to help advance China's political, economic and security objectives. It also said China often chooses to look the other way when "hacktivists," or independent cyber criminals, conduct attacks against U.S. business or government interests.
The report said the issue is complicated by the widespread existence of state-owned or state-controlled companies in China, which often employ hackers to steal trade secrets in order to gain advantages on foreign competitors.
Recent data suggests the problem is only getting worse. A report last from Akamai Technologies found that global cyber attacks originating from China more than doubled in the third quarter of 2012, compared to the previous three months. The study suggests that one-third of all cyber attacks now come from China.
Because of these factors, the U.S. panel called China "the most threatening actor in cyberspace."