Highly confidential documents related to sensitive trade negotiations are suspected to have been stolen from computers at Japanese farm ministry, government sources said.
The sources said a cyber-attack originating overseas is thought to have obtained more than 3,000 pieces of information, including about 20 top-secret documents on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact negotiations.
Government investigators found evidence indicating that official computers of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry had been remote-controlled by and communicated with a computer server abroad.
Investigators believe the attack targeted documents made just prior to an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting in November 2011 and before a Japan-US summit meeting in April 2012. The attacker highly likely obtained diplomatic policy information, the sources said.
According to the sources, the suspected stolen material concerned internal ministry documents created from October 2011 to April 2012.
One document created before the April 2012 meeting between then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and US President Barack Obama contained a draft statement on the TPP drawn up in conjunction with the Foreign Ministry that was to be incorporated into a joint statement issued by the two leaders.
The document also contained a summary of remarks Noda was to make during the summit meeting, as well as his schedule in the United States.
Another document, made just before an APEC summit in November 2011 when it was suspected the government would announce it would join the TPP talks, described Noda's intentions on when to join the negotiations.
More than 20 of the documents thought to have been stolen are considered highly confidential, the sources said, and included a road map outlining Japan's potential participation in the TPP talks and an analysis of the impact of postponing a decision.
The documents in question fell under the second of the government's three levels of confidentiality, meaning that a leak could infringe on the people's rights or hinder administrative work.
The documents are believed to have been moved from a personal computer issued to an official in charge of the TPP and other international negotiations to another computer, where the data was compressed to make transmission easier.
This computer then allegedly communicated with a server with an Internet protocol address in South Korea.
The agriculture ministry's investigation found that the attacker apparently manipulated this South Korean server. The operations screen was displayed in the Korean Hangul alphabet.
About a year ago, the ministry was warned by the National Information Security Centre (NISC) that a suspicious transmission had been made.
The NISC is part of the Cabinet Secretariat, and is tasked with the creation of basic strategies and general coordination for state information security. It was established in April 2005 by the prime minister, and has an undisclosed number of staff.
The NISC's activities cover not only government ministries and agencies, but also key infrastructure such as telecommunications, financial services and trains.
After receiving the warning, the ministry launched an investigation, discovering around spring 2012 that a document created in October 2011 was likely transmitted outside the ministry.
The ministry isolated the computer that had been infected with a virus, but later found that other ministry computers had also been infected.
It is not yet known when the computer began to be remotely controlled, but the ministry said it had stopped.
A ministry official declined to comment on the issue, saying that admitting a virus infection had occurred would expose the weaknesses of the ministry's computer system. However, the official did not deny material had been stolen.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
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