Japan promoting programs to produce more hackers for cybersecurity

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan is under growing pressure to generate more computer hackers due to its shortage of security engineers to help protect the government's information system, as well as transport, finance and other key infrastructures, from cyberattacks.

Japan needs about 80,000 more information security engineers than it currently has, while more than 160,000 of the 265,000 already involved in the service need further education, a government panel of experts on information security said in a long-term strategy it compiled in June to enhance the nation's capacity to deal with cyberwarfare.

Cyberattacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, making it more difficult to protect computer systems from them.

The long-term strategy calls for upgrading specialized education at universities and other institutions and reviewing the qualification system for such engineers. In addition to increasing the number, it is imperative to secure "manpower with outstanding abilities," the panel stressed.

In August, 41 high school and university students, aged 16 to 22, gathered at a training institute in the city of Chiba for a five-day "security camp" hosted by the Information-Technology Promotion Agency, or IPA, to learn from experts about computer viruses and cyberterrorism. The participants, chosen from 250 applicants based on computer-related knowledge and skills, also engaged in a hacking competition.

A 20-year-old female student from Okinawa Prefecture said the annual camp offered programs that were of "high levels I've never experienced."

Masahiro Uemura, head of the information security policy section at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry which oversees the IPA, said, "It is essential to have young hackers with initiative to cope with sophisticated (cyber)attacks."

The ministry supports Japan's biggest hacker competition, launched in August, in a bid to recruit young talent.

But some participants in the camp, which has been held since 2004, questioned where they could make use of their skills, other than information security-related companies.

The ministry has added a plan to its budget request for fiscal 2014 to establish a task force in the IPA to hire a dozen young hackers every year and send them to companies suffering cyberattacks.

South Korea has been promoting hacker education for selected students. Since last year, top graduates from the program have been hired for police, defense and other government jobs.

Japan lags behind South Korea in hacker education due to concerns about the possible effects of hackers quitting government offices after mastering their computer systems.

"We must hire no one but those loyal to our organization," said a senior official at the Defense Ministry.

"Existing programs can by no means cover the shortage" of information security engineers, said Hidehiko Tanaka, president of the Institute of Information Security, a private graduate school.

"The government should spearhead efforts to nurture talented engineers and increase the jobs available for them," he added. "It is necessary to create more opportunities for such hackers to work and widen their appeal."

October 06, 2013(Mainichi Japan)