Anti-Japanese Hostilities Move to the Internet

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

TOKYO -- In the fortified control room of a major Internet security firm, a beleaguered team of experts slouched in front of glowing computer screens, tracking overseas hackers through billions of lines of data. They glanced up periodically at an electronic world map on the wall where, every few seconds, red lines lit up, revealing a new cyber-war aimed at Tokyo.

Over the past several months, a series of attacks believed to have originated in China and South Korea have hit dozens of key public and private Web sites hosted in Japan. Authorities describe it as the heaviest assault ever perpetrated on the nation's computer systems from overseas.

Although the violent street protests in Beijing and Shanghai in recent weeks are the most visible face of resurgent anti-Japanese sentiments in the region, quieter Internet-based hostilities remain a source of national concern.

The angry demonstrations appear sharpened by a sense of strategic rivalry, as China's economic power grows and Japan looks to redefine its regional military role. In the newly adversarial atmosphere, China has opposed Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, saying it is unfit for such leadership until it faces up to its past. In addition, old animosities were rekindled in China after Japan's Education Ministry approved new textbooks that critics say whitewash the history of Japanese aggression in the region.

In the most recent incident, a coordinated attack was staged May 1 on the Web site of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing.

Industry sources and analysts said the attacks have caused financial losses and disrupted work at government agencies, businesses and religious centers. The sources were unable to quantify the losses, but the Web sites of the National Police Agency, the Self-Defense Forces and the Defense and Foreign ministries have been taken down repeatedly.

Japanese universities and companies such as Sony Corp.'s subsidiary in China have also fallen prey to hackers posting anti-Japanese slogans in Chinese.

Last week, the government expanded its information security office in part to cope with the surge in attacks. The unit is now called the National Information Security Center and employs 25 people.

Analysts compare the current situation to the "Sino-U.S. cyber-war" of 2001. In April of that year, a Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. spy plane conducting surveillance off the coast of China and crashed into the South China Sea. During the ensuing diplomatic confrontation, hackers in China claimed to have launched attacks on as many as 1,000 U.S.-based Web sites.

The Web site for Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine has been hit by millions of "information bombs" that clogged its servers. Late last month, about 80 Japanese lawmakers made an official visit to the shrine, which deifies the nation's fallen warriors, including criminals from World War II. The shrine has struggled to allow access to its site, and Yasukuni's religious leaders recently posted a notice online describing the attacks as "a vicious challenge against the nation of Japan."

Other Japanese companies and institutions have also had to contend with cyber-warfare, including viruses and timed attacks intended to shut down computer systems.

Itsuro Nishimoto, executive director of SecureNet, a division of the prominent Internet security firm LAC, said the Chinese and Korean hackers "used to just have fun with us, but now they have become more vicious and have a clear intent to do damage." His company, he said, has had to dispatch more "emergency response teams" to its clients, including the Japanese government, to cope with the barrage.

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