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EDITORIAL | JAXA Hacking Risks Not Just Japan But Its Security Partners

As JAXA, Japan's space development program increases projects with foreign countries, strong cybersecurity measures are needed to preserve the partners' trust.



The JAXA logo.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) recently revealed it has suffered repeated cyberattacks since 2023. In the process, the cyber criminals gained access to confidential information. 

The large number of illegally accessed document files has raised concerns that confidential information was leaked concerning related companies, external research institutes, the Ministry of Defense, and other organizations. Chinese hackers appear to have been responsible for these cyberattacks. 

On July 1 JAXA successfully launched its next-generation mainstay "H3-3" rocket carrying Japan's advanced radar satellite "Daichi-4" into orbit. Clearly, information related to rockets and satellites has a deep connection to national security.

Breach Risks Data Beyond Japan's

The number of space development projects in which Japan is cooperating with foreign countries is growing. For example, at the April Japan-United States Summit, our two nations agreed to collaborate closely on space. Obviously, the fallout from the unauthorized divulgence of JAXA data will not be confined to Japan alone. 

What is more, if an authoritarian government like China gets its hands on such information, it could threaten the security of our ally and other friendly nations. We must recognize that this situation is very serious indeed. 

JAXA's Tokyo office in the city's Chiyoda Ward. (©Kyodo)

Not the First Time

JAXA has shut down the network that has been penetrated and is now assessing what damage was done. Chief Cabinet Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi explained, "The network which was illegally accessed did not handle sensitive information, such as that dealing with rocket or satellite operations." 

However, that assurance is not sufficient. We must ascertain why the cyberattacks succeeded and then determine how to prevent any recurrence. 

JAXA was also the target of cyberattacks back in 2016 and 2017. It would be a grave situation if it is revealed that security has been lax and such cyberattacks are easy to carry out. Furthermore, in the latest case, JAXA remained unaware of the damage that had been done. That finally changed when the police informed them in 2023.

If JAXA cannot fully restore trust in its security measures, then it could impede future joint projects with overseas partners. That includes JAXA's US counterpart NASA. That in turn would adversely impact Japan's national interests. 

Getting Serious About Security

The Japanese government must also adopt a firm stance towards those perpetrating the attacks. 

We have to assume that other government ministries and agencies besides JAXA are potential cyberattack targets. We must also prevent critical infrastructure, such as electric power facilities and financial networks from becoming dysfunctional because of cyberattacks. 

One effective approach for doing that would be to adopt an "active cyber defense" posture. That means taking the initiative to prevent cyberattacks and the damage that results before they actually take place. 

The government is currently considering introducing such a system. It is eyeing submitting related legislation during the extraordinary Diet session in the autumn of 2024. In the meantime, we must promote public understanding and adopt such legislation as soon as possible. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun