Japan, U.S. to collaborate on countermeasures against ransomware

Japan and the United States are preparing to closely cooperate on defensive measures against ransomware, designating such cyber-attacks as a threat to national security, according to Japanese government officials. Tokyo and Washington are expected to agree on cooperative measures in the cybersecurity field at the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee, also known as 2-plus-2 security talks, involving each country’s foreign and defense chiefs.

The next talks are scheduled to be held online on Jan. 7.

Ransomware is a type of malware that hacks into a computer system to encrypt data, making it inaccessible. The hacker then demands ransom in exchange for restoring the data.

In the United States, there has been a surge in cyber-attack cases using this form of malware, in which infrastructure, companies and government bodies have come under target. In May, one of the largest pipelines in the United States was forced to shut down due to the attack. In Japan, hospitals and other facilities have been attacked this year.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has pointed out that some hacker groups are sponsored by China and Russia. Given that, the United States has started to strengthen cooperation with private entities and discuss countermeasures to be taken by the U.S. military. A U.S. Defense Department official said there is a high possibility that important infrastructure might be targeted in the event of a contingency.

In October, the U.S. National Security Council took the lead in holding an online meeting with about 30 countries to affirm the strengthening of international cooperation.

The Japanese government finds it difficult to counter hacker groups alone in the event of a serious ransomware attack and needs to deepen cooperation with the United States, which has advanced expertise to cope with cyber-attacks.

Japan-U.S. cooperation is expected to consist of three main pillars: swiftly sharing information on damage caused by ransomware attacks and jointly analyzing cases that pose a threat to security; identifying hacker groups and taking countermeasures; and enhancing the resilience of companies and other organizations against cyber-attacks.

The U.S. government has raised concerns about Japan’s low defense capability against cyber-attacks such as ransomware attacks, in light of the fact that Washington is moving ahead with the sharing of highly classified military information. Last year, a cyber-attack on Mitsubishi Electric Corp. led to the leak of defense-related information.

Japan and the United States hope to increase the resilience of the Japanese side against cyber-attacks through bilateral cooperation, and further speed up defense cooperation and interoperation in domains such as space.