Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks launched to protest dolphin hunting.
A masked hacker, part of the Anonymous group, hacks the French presidential Elysee Palace website in this 2012 file photo. The group is said to be behind a growing number of attacks in Japan. (JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)
Cyber-attacks against targets in Japan, apparently carried out by international hacker group Anonymous, have been increasing since September.
Last autumn, a number of government websites and other sites came under attack.
However, the recent attacks are different from sophisticated cyber-attacks that aim to steal information.
Experts call for people to respond calmly by taking necessary steps in advance without fearing them too much.
Late at night on Sept. 3, the website of the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims became inaccessible.
Shortly after, a group saying it was Anonymous and opposed to dolphin hunting and other issues, posted a statement online claiming responsiblity.
An official at the memorial hall said in bewilderment: “We have nothing to do with dolphin hunting.”
It is believed a series of Anonymous attacks, called Operation Killing Bay, started around 2013 in protest against Japan’s whale hunting and the annual dolphin hunts in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, in September.
Last year, to protest against the dolphin hunting in Taiji, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks were launched against government offices websites and infrastructure operators such as airports. DDoS attacks are aimed at rendering websites and other online services unavailable by sending a huge amount of data to the server.
According to police, the number of cyber-attacks Anonymous is believed to be involved in has grown since September. There were no cyber-attack-related website problems from May to August, but 29 incidents were confirmed in September, followed by 26 in October. From Nov. 1 to Nov. 27, there were 53 cases, bringing the total from September to Nov. 27 to 108.
In comparison, incidents ranged between the 10s and 20s each month from September to November last year, but rose to 56 in December.
“Their aim is not to make websites unavailable, but to promote their presence,” said Nobuhiro Tsuji, senior security researcher at SoftBank Technology Corp.
This year, the targets of the attacks have conspicuously been small organizations and shops such as izakaya Japanese pubs, and groups totally unrelated to dolphin hunting.
“The hackers could be different from last year, and their resources could be smaller,” Tsuji said.
When Anonymous started around 2006, it advocated the establishment of the freedom of the Internet and made political appeals through legally permitted activities such as street demonstrations.
Now, Anonymous tends to carry out cyber-attacks with the aid of unknown individuals who respond to invitations on Twitter and other websites.
The website of the Kasumigaura river office of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry came under attack in 2012. Anonymous is believed to have confused Kasumigaura with Tokyo’s bureaucratic district of Kasumigaseki.
Anonymous’ main attack method, DDoS, can be committed without significant expertise. There is almost no way to defend against such attacks. It is a matter of waiting for an attack to cease, although measures have recently been developed to mitigate damage.
“Compared to cyber-attacks aimed at stealing information, DDoS attacks are not so sophisticated. In most cases, the websites attacked went down and that was it,” said Masakatsu Morii, a professor at Kobe University specializing in information and telecommunications engineering.
Some observers point out that such cyber-attack could increase ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Morii said, “It is important that companies and organizations take necessary measures calmly. If they are attacked, they should respond coolly without overreacting.”