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China Hacks and Leaks Confidential Japanese Diplomatic Cables

Japan’s Kyodo News reported that in 2020 China conducted a cyberattack on the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ system for exchanging diplomatic messages with foreign embassies, resulting in classified information being leaked. The messaging system, called the “International IPVPN,” operates on a virtual private network separate from the general internet. Leaks of confidential diplomatic communications are extremely rare.

At a press conference, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said he could not answer questions about the cyberattack due to information security issues. He also said that he was unaware of any classified information from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs having been leaked.

The compromised diplomatic messages include sensitive reports and instructions exchanged between the Ministry’s headquarters and embassies abroad. They may have also contained private information that Japan collected regarding foreign governments. The Japanese government has not disclosed the extent of the leak, the specific contents of the messages, or how the attack was discovered.

The hacking demonstrates the increasing importance of cyberspace as a theater for espionage and geopolitical confrontation. Japan’s diplomatic communications likely contain valuable intelligence for other countries seeking greater influence in the region. The Japanese government’s lack of transparency around the attack makes it difficult to assess the full implications of the incident, however. Going forward, Japan’s government plans to make a top priority of bolstering cybersecurity in its confidential diplomatic relations with strategic partners.

Source: Kyodo News, February 5, 2024–.html