The New York Times has recently reported the news related to a (yet another) targeted cyber-attack against JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). This targeted attack has allegedly led to the exfiltration of sensitive information related to Epsilon, a solid-fuel rocket prototype supposed to be used also for military applications, suggesting the targeted attack is probably part of a cyber-espionage campaign.
The targeted attack has been carried on by mean of a malware installed in a computer at Tsukuba Space Center. Before being discovered, on November 21, the malicious executable has secretly collected data and sent it outside the agency.
This is the second known targeted attack against JAXA in less than eleven months: on January 13, 2012, a computer virus infected a data terminal at Japan’s Space Agency, causing a leak of potentially sensitive information including JAXA’s H-2 Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned vessel that ferries cargo to the International Space Station. In that circumstance officials said that information about the robotic spacecraft and its operations might have been compromised.
Unfortunately the above cyber-attacks are not episodic circumstances, confirming that Japan is a hot zone from an information security perspective, and a coveted target for cyber espionage campaigns. Undoubtedly, the strategic importance of this country in the global chessboard and hence its internal secrets and the intellectual property of its industries are more than a good reason for such similar targeted cyber-attacks.
The list is quite long…
19 September 2011: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Japan’s biggest defense contractor, reveals that it suffered a hacker attack in August 2011 that caused some of its networks to be infected by malware. According to the company 45 network servers and 38 PCs became infected with malware at ten facilities across Japan. The infected sites included its submarine manufacturing plant in Kobe and the Nagoya Guidance & Propulsion System Works, which makes engine parts for missiles.
24 October 2011: An internal investigation on the Cyber Attack against Mitsubishi finds signs that the information has been transmitted outside the company’s computer network “with the strong possibility that an outsider was involved”. As a consequence, sensitive information concerning vital defense equipment, such as fighter jets, as well as nuclear power plant design and safety plans, was apparently stolen.
25 October 2011: According to local media reports, computers in Japan’s lower house of parliament were hit by cyber-attacks from a server based in China that left information exposed for at least a month. A trojan horse was emailed to a Lower House member in July of the same year, the Trojan horse then downloaded malware from a server based in China, allowing remote hackers to secretly spy on email communications and steal usernames and passwords from lawmakers for at least a month.
27 October 2011: The Japanese Foreign Ministry launches an investigation to find out the consequences of a cyber-attack targeting dozens of computers used at Japanese diplomatic offices in nine countries. Many of the targeted computers were found to have been infected with a backdoor since the summer of the same year. The infection was allegedly caused by a spear-phishing attack targeting the ministry’s confidential diplomatic information. Suspects are directed to China.
2 November 2011: Japan’s parliament comes under cyber attack again, apparently from the same emails linked to China that already hit the lawmakers’ computers in Japan’s lower house of parliament. In this circumstance, malicious emails are found on computers used in the upper chamber of the Japanese parliament.
13 January 2012: Officials announce that a computer virus infected a data terminal at Japan’s space agency, causing a leak of potentially sensitive information. The malware was discovered on January 6 on a terminal used by one of its employees. The employee in question worked on JAXA’s H-2 Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned vessel that ferries cargo to the International Space Station. Information about the robotic spacecraft and its operations may thus have been compromised and in fact the investigation shows that the computer virus had gathered information from the machine.
20 July 2012: The Japanese Finance Ministry declares to have found that some of its computers have been infected with a virus since 2010 to 2011 and admits that some information may have been leaked. 123 computers on 2,000 have been found infected and, according to the investigation, the contagion started in January 2010, suggesting that information could have been leaked for over two years. The last infection occurred in November 2011, after which the apparent attack suddenly stopped.