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Japan to create first regional counter-cyberattack unit in GSDF's Western Army

In this Oct. 23, 2016 file photo, Self-Defense Forces personnel listen to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during an inspection event on the training ground of the Ground Self-Defense Force Asaka Shooting Range in Saitama Prefecture. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Defense will establish a unit in Western Army of the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) in March 2019 to protect defense communications from cyberattacks, according to ministry officials.

The new system protection unit will be the first of its kind in a regional GSDF unit, and will be designed to safeguard communications, even when personnel have been deployed on remote islands with no established secure lines.

The GSDF Western Army is responsible for the protection of southern Japan regions such as the main island of Kyushu, Okinawa Prefecture and remote islands. The Senkaku Islands, which are part of Okinawa, are claimed by China, which has sent military ships into waters around the remote southern islands in the Japanese archipelago.

The new cyber unit will consist of roughly 40 members and is scheduled to carry out exercises from the next fiscal year in coordination with other units, such as the amphibious rapid deployment brigade headquartered in the city of Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, in Kyushu.

The Japanese Self-Defense Forces usually use an open system that has internet connectivity during normal operations, but for communications that require higher confidentiality, a secure closed system is employed.

The Western Army's jurisdiction includes many remote islands that lack SDF telecommunications infrastructure. Accessing the closed system from such islands requires a wireless connection, but this connection could be vulnerable to hacking and intrusion into the closed system. The Defense Ministry is set to establish the new regional system protection unit to strengthen the communications infrastructure against unauthorized access.

Later this year, the government will revise the National Defense Program Guidelines to strengthen the SDF's capacity to counter cyberattacks, as well as threats in space and electronic warfare. The cyber protection units will consist of some 430 personnel by the end of this fiscal year in March 2019, and the ministry is considering increasing the number further to around 1,000 in the future. Introducing outside experts on contracts as tutors for members is also an option under review, according to ministry officials.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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