In a concerted attack, hackers gained access to systems at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Japan's top defense contractor and maker of various weapons systems such as the Patriot missile defense system (pictured).  (Source: Mail UK)

As with other recent attacks, the Chinese government is suspected of being behind the concerted effort to steal military and economic secrets.  (Source: Army Recognition)
Attackers target missile, ship-building, and submarine facilities

A major investigation by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (TYO:7011) and the Japanese federal government has revealed an alarming infiltration of systems at the company's critical defense facilities.  Eight different computer viruses were found in 80 infected systems, including trojans and keyloggers.

Among the infected systems, some resided at the company's Tokyo headquarters.  Others infected systems were housed at the Kobe Shipyard, which currently builds submarines and makes components to build nuclear power stations; the Nagasaki Shipyard, which currently makes escort ships; and the Nagoya plant which reportedly carries out classified manufacturing of guided missiles and rocket engines.

Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun was the first to report on the breach.

A spokeperson for the company issued a reassuring comment to American news agency Reuters stating, "We've found out that some system information such as IP addresses have been leaked and that's creepy enough. We can't rule out small possibilities of further information leakage but so far crucial data about our products or technologies have been kept safe."

The company is Japan's largest defense contractor.  Between March 2010 and March 2011 it won 215 deals worth 260B yen ($3.4B USD) from Japan's Ministry of Defense.  The company is a licensed manufacturer of many iconic weapons designs -- for example it licenses the rights to build MIM-104 Patriot missile and AIM-7 Sparrow from Raytheon Comp. (RTN).  

The company also has deep ties to American aerospace and defense firms.  For example, it's been contracted to build the wings for The Boeing Comp.'s (BA) mammoth new 787 Dreamliner jet.

Andrew Davies, a cyber-warfare analyst with the government backed defense think-tank, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in an interview with Reuters called Japan an attractive target and inferred they may simply have missed past attacks.

"It's probably just the first that hacking attacks in Japan have been detected. It's consistent with what we've seen already with big American defense companies," he remarks, "The Japanese make large conventional submarines that are among the world's most sophisticated ... (they) have very nicely integrated solutions with their own mechanical, electronic and control systems, so it a pretty attractive hacking proposition, to get the design of a Japanese submarine."

The attacks follow a major intrusion at U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), which involved attackers using stolen materials from RSA Security to compromise the supposedly ultra-secure time-based RSA authentication system and gain VPN access to company servers and mount an attack.

Also of note is a recent report by Intel Corp. (INTC) subsidiary McAfee who claims that between 2006 and 2011 a "national actor" was involved in a massive cyberattack, which compromised many nations, international organizations, and defense contractors.  

The elephant in the closet in both cases was the clear indications pointing to the Chinese government.  Many defense experts suggest that it's painfully obvious China -- which is looking to gain defensive and economic advantages via hacking -- is behind these attacks.  However, given its extensive manufacturing and research facilities in China, perhaps, Intel's subsidiary refused to comment on which nation it believed the attacks to originate from.

Thus far Mitsubishi and the Japanese government, both deeply dependent on Chinese manufacturing, have declined to comment on speculation regarding the origins of the sophisticated and persistent attacks.

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