Forthcoming cybercrime unit will require greater global cooperation

To deal with transnational cyber-attacks, the National Police Agency will establish a special investigative unit next fiscal year. It is important for the unit to cooperate not only with relevant bodies in Japan, but also with those overseas to reinforce its investigative capabilities.

The new unit will gather 200 members of police from across the country, including investigators with expertise in the field. It will probe cyber-attacks targeting critical infrastructure such as power plants and airports.

Fundamentally, the NPA is a government agency mainly in charge of legal affairs, while metropolitan and prefectural police conduct investigations. Except for the Imperial Guard, this will be the first time that a unit of the NPA has direct investigative powers, including the authority to make arrests.

In order to counter cyber-attacks, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated and enhanced, it is essential for experts in digital technology to analyze and crack down on cybercriminal organizations.

Suspicious activities on the internet believed to be cyber-attacks targeting companies, administrative bodies and individuals in Japan are increasing year after year. A daily average of 6,500 such cases were confirmed last year.

In particular, malware known as ransomware is causing serious damage. It encrypts data on a computer and the perpetrators demand a ransom in exchange for recovering the data. A U.S. oil pipeline system was forced to halt its operations, while Honda Motor Co.’s plants in some countries were suspended due to ransomware attacks.

Large-scale cybercrime investigations have been undertaken mainly by the Metropolitan Police Department, an organization under the Tokyo metropolitan government, and now the establishment of a unit under the direct control of the central government will make it easier to proceed with cooperation among overseas entities. In addition to information sharing, it should create an opportunity to acquire investigative know-how.

The governments of countries such as China, Russia and North Korea are suspected of being involved in some cyber-attacks confirmed in recent years.

In Western nations, national agencies like the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation are in charge of investigating cyber-attacks. It is significant to consolidate information and human resources in Japan to improve the capacity to deal with such crimes. Pursuing efforts to grasp the actual situation of cybercriminal organizations and crack down on them should help deter cyber-attacks.

It is hard to say that the environment in Japan is conducive to cybercrime investigations, however. In Western nations, investigators take such aggressive methods as launching cyber-attacks against cybercriminals in order to shut down their systems, whereas investigative bodies in Japan are not granted this kind of authority.

In the future, it may be necessary to discuss the expansion of investigative powers, including the enactment of relevant laws, by referring to cases overseas. With the cooperation of the private sector, efforts must also be made to develop human resources.

The government is working on cyberspace measures with the National Center of Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity as the control tower, and the Self-Defense Forces are also preparing for cyber-attacks. The hope is that the new unit will cooperate with these bodies in Japan to create an agile and effective organization.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 20, 2021.