Fujitsu has been commissioned to develop ‘seek and destroy’ malware, reportedly designed to track and disable the sources of cyber-attacks.
The fledgling cyber-weapon is the result of a three-year $2.3 million project that also involved developing tools capable of monitoring and analysing the sources of hacking attacks, The Daily Yomiuri reports. Deploying the technology would involve clearing both practical and legislative hurdles.
Tracing the source of cyber-attacks is notoriously difficult, mainly because attackers routinely hide behind botnets and anonymous proxies to launch attacks, such as denial of service assaults. The malware reportedly developed by Fujitsu is designed to trace connections back to their controlling hosts before disabling them.
Getting this right is a far from trivial process and the potential for collateral damage, even before hackers develop countermeasures, appears to be considerable. Another problem is that, if the tool is ever released, it could fall into the hands of miscreants who might reverse-engineer it before adapting it for their own nefarious purposes.
The malware is reportedly been tested in a "closed network environment". The tool reportedly has the greatest potential in tracking back the sources of DDoS attacks. Whether it's any good at the much more difficult process of picking out stealthy industrial espionage-style information-stealing attempts remains unclear.
Japanese law currently prohibits offensive responses in retaliation to cyber-attacks, another potential problem but one that's easier to resolve perhaps by updating current laws. The current prohibition has more to do with post-Second World War agreements that restrict Japanese military capabilities than local laws against the creation of computer viruses.
Japan is a prime target for cyber-attacks and suffered numerous assaults last year alone. Reported victims include Japan’s parliament and industrial giant Mitsubishi.
The Defense Ministry's Technical Research and Development Institute is understood to have outsourced the development of the tool to Fujitsu. A Defense Ministry official played down talk of offensive applications for the software and told The Daily Yomiuri that it was designed for applications such as tracing the source of cyber-attacks against Japanese Self-Defense Force systems. However Prof Motohiro Tsuchiya of Keio University, a member of a government panel on information security policy, said Japan ought to accelerate cyber-weapons development.
Fujitsu declined to comment about the supposed cyber-weapon, citing client confidentiality. ®