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While ordinary cyberattacks, such as industrial espionage and information leakages, are classified as crimes, more serious acts can easily lead to a cyberwar between nations.
A cyberattack against a Japanese company was apparently targeting the country’s defense industry. The 2019 large-scale cyberattack against Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric likely leaked information related to one of the most advanced weapons being developed, government sources said.
While the company claimed that the case was one of industrial spying, the sources said the hackers appeared to be targeting information about hypersonic glide missiles. These missiles are intended to carry out precision attacks on targets after evading the enemy’s missile defense network. The missiles are designed to fly not only at incredibly high speeds but also at various trajectories.
Although the data that likely leaked was not classified as top secret, it was still “sensitive information related to the future of Japan’s defense capability,” a government source said.
The hypersonic glide missiles are being developed by China, Russia and the United States.
Japan’s Defense Ministry began its own research on developing the missiles in 2018, and its Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) lent out specifications of the weapons to defense companies, including Mitsubishi Electric, as reported by asahi.com.
The stolen specifications likely included such information as the range of the missile, the required level of heat resistance and propulsion. The specifications were not classified as state secrets that must be protected by the law because the capabilities of the missiles would invariably change during the development process.
The bidding companies were cautioned to handle the specifications with care because any leaks could cause disruptions in defense operations.
The hackers entered Mitsubishi Electric’s network by exploiting defects in software used in the company’s computers as well as communications equipment of affiliated companies in China, according to the investigation.
Black Tech and Tick are among the Chinese hacker groups suspected of masterminding the cyberattack. However, some analysts have suggested that a state actor was behind the breach with the intention of targeting the defense industry or important infrastructure. Official agencies claimed that the two hacker groups were under the control of the Chinese military.