Japanese companies on alert for possible cyberattacks from Russia

Bangladesh Bank and RCBC fight over $81m cyber heist

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TOKYO — Japanese companies are on high alert for possible cyberattacks following the government’s decision to impose economic sanctions on Russia.

Ukraine suffered massive cyberattacks prior to Russia’s military invasion of that country, and the Russian government was reportedly involved. Cyberattacks that targeted Ukraine hit the websites of around 70 government organizations, including the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, the 13 and January 14.

On February 1, attacks were confirmed in which individuals and organizations received emails containing computer viruses.

The attacks were allegedly carried out by Gamaredon, a hacker group believed to be linked to Russia, Trend Micro said.

On February 15 and 23, the websites of the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian banks suffered Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in which massive amounts of data are transmitted in order to cripple servers.

Following the Japanese government’s announcement on Wednesday that it would impose economic sanctions on Russia, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry sent a notice to businesses urging them to take action against possible cyberattacks.

Files attached to emails should not be opened with care, the advisory said, and data should be backed up to prevent loss.

“We will work closely with our overseas offices to monitor the cybercrime situation and take firm action,” an official from Mizuho Bank, Ltd. said.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. and Japan Airlines Co. said they will continue to step up their cybersecurity efforts.

“Ukraine is physically remote, but distance is irrelevant on the internet,” Trend Micro’s Katsuyuki Okamoto said. “Japanese companies may well be targeted.”

People also need to be careful at home, so as not to unwittingly help cyberattacks, according to technology firm Internet Initiative Japan. DDoS attackers sometimes manipulate home devices with weak security and use them to transmit data.

“Devices in Japanese homes may have been used in attacks without their owners knowing. It is necessary to update security software and take other protective measures,” a system engineer from Internet Initiative Japan.

Police step up vigilance

The National Police Agency on Wednesday instructed the prefectural police and other investigative bodies to increase their vigilance against suspicious communications, which could be a sign of future attacks.

“We are ready to respond immediately in the event of cyber attacks,” said a senior agency official.

The government said in its cybersecurity strategy, which was approved by Cabinet in September, that Russia would launch cyberattacks to achieve its military and political goals.

There have been cases where Russian government involvement is suspected. In April, the United States expelled 10 Russian diplomats after their government and critical infrastructure operators suffered cyberattacks, determining that a group of hackers with ties to the SVR, a Russian foreign intelligence service, was behind them.

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