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Japan joins the race for cybersecurity leader

Cybersecurity has created another race – to be the global security leader. Now cities and countries are all trying to become the hub for an industry tipped to be worth over $150bn by 2019. Japan, a country that’s been behind so many innovative technologies, is the next to throw its hat into the ring.

According to William Saito, a former advisor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and current official at security firm Palo Alto Networks, cybersecurity has no perfect solution but that doesn’t mean efforts should ever relax. Now, in November the Japanese government and the World Economic Forum will play host to a conference on cybersecurity with global interests present to plot the best steps forward.

Japan is already one of the world’s most connected nations. It has over 100 million internet users, widespread and growing public Wi-Fi spots, and a particular affinity for home-grown services like messaging app LINE. Describing security as an “extremely crucial issue”, government officials have recognised this and introduced new laws catering to cybersecurity threats and initiating responses.

Japan, surprisingly, doesn’t immediately spring to mind as an emerging central command for cybersecurity companies and startups in the same way that places like Israel do. While Japan is the HQ of Trend Micro, one of the world’s biggest security companies, there are no other major players.

The most recent Cybersecurity 500 from Cybersecurity Ventures features no other Japanese firms while unsurprisingly, the US and UK are well represented. “There are startups as well as well-established companies in the cybersecurity market in Japan,” replies Masayoshi Someya, senior security evangelist at Trend Micro, who says that overall the country’s been making serious strides in cybersecurity such as the establishment of the Cyber Security Strategy Headquarters.

“The government also just recently passed the revised version of the Declaration to be the World's Most Advanced IT Nation last month. These initiatives are driven by the pressing need within the government to secure themselves and national infrastructure, showing clear indication that they are taking cybersecurity seriously,” he says.

“Japan has already taken initiatives in holding meetings on cybersecurity issues with ASEAN countries and, with all the efforts that have been and will be in place, the country would be well-placed to be able to make positive influence on other countries on cybersecurity issues in the long term.”

The conference in November with the World Economic Forum is hoped to open up more dialogue on the matter with other nations. “This is also another indication that Japan is taking the matter of cybersecurity seriously,” says Someya. “Considering the fact that cybercriminals are everywhere and their activities are proliferating all around the world, we need to find a better way of sharing knowledge and intelligence and also collaboration between countries and also between law enforcements and commercial entities.”

The cybersecurity problem is not unique to Japan. While the country is home to potentially lucrative business targets for hackers, this is not to say small businesses will be forgotten. Any security efforts in Japan need to address both the big and small players, says Someya as sometimes cyber threats are discarded as “someone else’s problem.”

“From a cybercriminals’ perspective, the size of the organisation is not important, but whether they have personal information that they can make money out of is all important. Businesses need to realise the fact that they are targeted, anytime, anywhere,” he says.

Japan is no stranger to cyber-attacks of different kinds. Yahoo Japan was attacked in 2013 and 20 million users’ details were lifted. The Japan Pension Service was hacked in June of this year by unknown hackers who lifted 1.25 million records of personal data like names, addresses, and ID numbers. The country allegedly suffers 12 billion cyberattacks a year.

Japan is now facing potentially its biggest cybersecurity incident in the coming years – the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With millions descending on the city, services and infrastructure will be under particular pressure and an attack could be debilitating.

“The good news is that the Japanese government has been well-aware of potential cybersecurity risks associated with Olympics, and has been working on making sure that the whole event will be run smoothly,” says Someya.

In early 2014, the Japanese government held cybersecurity drills where simulated attacks were carried out on ministries and agencies. London staged similar drills in the lead up to 2012.

At the time, Ichita Yamamoto, the minister heading up IT policy conceded that Japan was “certainly behind the US” in terms of security. Since those drills, Japan’s efforts have become much more intensive.

Shinzo Abe appointed an Olympics minister in June, making specific mention of the need for cybersecurity protections while reports suggest that the authorities will be employing many more ethical hackers between now and the Games.

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Jonathan Keane

Jonathan Keane is a freelance journalist, living in Ireland, covering business and technology

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