Photo/IllutrationThe Defense Ministry (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Defense Ministry will hold its first hacking competition next fiscal year to find experts who can help shore up the nation’s security against cyber-attacks, sources said.

The contest will be open to a wide range of people in the private sector as part of efforts to identify excellent white-hat hackers.

The ministry in 2014 introduced a cyber-defense team and plans to increase the number of members by 70 to 290 next fiscal year. It has also been providing and strengthening training programs based on each member’s skill level so they can respond to even advanced cyber-attacks.

But a senior ministry official acknowledged: “It is difficult to secure a necessary number of personnel with sufficient abilities only through training of our in-house staff.”

So the ministry decided to hold the hacker competition to find human resources who can excel in the security field.

Specifically, the ministry is considering organizing a “capture the flag” (CTF) event, a type of wargame in which participants play either cyber-attackers or defenders.

This type of contest shows the participants’ real abilities to handle cyber-attacks and conduct accurate analyses, regardless of whether they have credentials proving their skill levels.

Many foreign militaries have introduced such events to find talented personnel, Defense Ministry officials said.

Those who show great skill at the competition will be hired by the ministry as either permanent staff or outside advisers and consultants.

Cyber-attacks have become increasingly advanced and sophisticated.

“We need to secure personnel in unprecedented ways,” a senior ministry official said. “It will be beneficial for us just to get to know and become able to seek advice from people with advanced knowledge.”

Military technologies are rapidly progressing not only in outer space defense and electromagnetic warfare, but also in cyber security.

According to the defense white paper for 2018, 7.11 million cyber threats to Japanese ministries and agencies were detected in fiscal 2016.

Militaries around the world have reported leaks of confidential information likely caused by cyber-attacks.

The Defense Ministry’s cyber-defense team and other officials keep a constant watch to respond to threats and attacks. However, Tokyo lags behind other major powers in securing personnel and improving computer security systems.

The defense white paper for 2019 shows the Chinese military has a cyber-combat team comprising 175,000 personnel , while North Korea is said to have 6,800 dedicated cyber-experts.