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Technology

High-tech Japan at bottom of global 'cyber power' rankings: study

Tokyo trails all members of Five Eyes intelligence alliance, according to IISS

Japan has created some cyber defense units, but still has no official cyber strategy.

TOKYO -- Despite being known as a leader and innovator in information and communications technologies for decades, Japan's capabilities in cyberspace rank among the lowest compared with countries of a similar size because of constitutional constraints on collecting data, according to a study by an international think tank.

The study, published on Monday by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, groups 15 major nations in three tiers. While the U.S. sits alone at the top tier, Japan is grouped in the bottom tier below China and Russia.

The report lays out the implications the disparity in cyber capabilities will have for Japan's relations with the Five Eye intelligence-sharing alliance formed between New Zealand, the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia.

Japan is "also an ally of the Five Eyes states, but less capable in the security dimensions of cyberspace, despite its formidable economic power," said the report, released Monday.

The study looks at the strengths of each "cyber power" when it comes to strategy, governance, cyberintelligence gathering and offensive cyber capabilities, among other categories.

"By 2020, prompted in part by the U.S. and Australia, Japan had shifted to a more robust cyber posture because of rising concerns about China and North Korea," said the report.

However, "Japan still does not have an official military cyber strategy or an official military doctrine pertaining to cyberspace, though it has made modest organizational changes in its armed forces, including the creation of some dedicated cyber units," the report said.

On the subject of intelligence gathering in cyberspace, the IISS points out that Japan is largely reliant on the U.S. for cyber situational awareness and development of intelligence capabilities.

"Japan's intelligence organizations are small and underfunded in comparison to those of other states of similar size," said the report.

The study raises the Article 21 of the Japanese constitution as the main reason for the country's limited cyberintelligence gathering capabilities. The article not only guarantees the freedom of assembly, speech and the press, the provision also prohibits the violation of "the secrecy of any means of communication."

"Article 21 of Japan's constitution severely limits the extent to which the government can collect signals intelligence and consequently conduct cyber reconnaissance," said the report.

The study labels Japan's offensive cyber capabilities as "underdeveloped." For the country to possess adequate proficiencies in that field, "this would require Japan's Self-Defense Forces Law to be revised." said the report.

In Japan's private sector, "defenses in cyberspace are not especially strong, with many corporations unwilling to meet the costs of bolstering them," the study said.

During a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato addressed the IISS report, saying, "we'll use it as reference in the work toward crafting the next cybersecurity strategy."

"We need to position cyber offense as a duty for the Japan Self Defense Forces and bring in the right personnel," said Heigo Sato, professor and vice president of Institute of World Studies at Takushoku University in Tokyo.

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