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For the First Time, Japan's Government Hosts a Hackathon

BY Julia Wetherell | Thursday, February 7 2013

Japan’s recent strides in open data have displayed a growing interest in transparency from both citizens and public officials.  A hackathon held this past weekend shows that the government is already letting developers in on one high-level project: maintaining national security. 

The Japanese government has long resisted the promotion of hackathons on civic issues, out of fear that they would encourage cybercrime against agencies.  Yet cybercrime has been on the uptick in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, often in the form of phishing emails – usually originating in China – that target victims or agencies.

Now the escalating crisis over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands has invited further Chinese cyberattacks.  This past September, the Japanese government laid official claim to three of the uninhabited islands near Taiwan in the East China Sea; China and Taiwan have long disputed Japan’s right to the territory, which may be home to untapped oil reserves.  In response, Chinese hacks infiltrated hundreds of Japanese organizations, including government agencies and hospitals.

The hackathon, which took place February 3 in Tokyo, saw Japan inviting programmers and cybersecurity specialists to tinker with government websites for the first time.  Thirty-six developers were asked to identify holes in security practices, cracking sites to compromise data and passwords.  Japan takes cyber threats seriously; a military panel determined in the fall that malicious hacks of foreign origin could provoke the same response as attacks on land or at sea.  Coming to an understanding of current cybersecurity weaknesses could preclude the need for such retaliation.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.