Japan Space Agency Hacked, But No Rocket Data Accessed

Computer code on a screen with a skull representing a computer virus / malware attack.

Admission of ‘unauthorised access’ of a network server at Japan’s space agency (JAXA), but sensitive data not compromised

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has reportedly been hacked, but the good news is that sensitive data was apparently not accessed.

The Japan Times reported that the Japanese government as saying on Wednesday that JAXA was likely hit an unauthorised access attack on a network server. However there was some good news, as sensitive data pertaining to rockets or satellites was not compromised.

Unfortunately, it appears the hack has taken some time to uncover, after the Japan Times, citing sources close to the matter, said JAXA was not aware that the breach may have occurred sometime during the summer until they were contacted by police this Autumn.

ispace moon japan space
Image from lunar orbit taken by M1 mission. Image credit: ispace

No confirmation

An official at the agency reportedly said no data leaks have been confirmed so far, but it is understood that Japanese authorities and law enforcement are investigating the incident.

According to the Japan Times, authorities are working to identify the source of the attack, the scope of the damage and any vulnerabilities in the agency’s security systems.

It should be noted that JAXA was among the roughly 200 companies and research institutes hit by large-scale cyberattacks in 2016 and 2017, believed to have been conducted by a Chinese espionage group under the direction of the People’s Liberation Army, the Japan Times reported.

And in April 2021, Japanese police apparently referred a Chinese engineer to prosecutors on suspicion of signing a contract with a fake name to rent a server used in the attacks.

However, Tokyo prosecutors decided not to indict the man, a member of the Chinese Communist Party in his 30s, in October that year, without citing a reason, the JP reported.

Space push

JAXA was created back in 2003 via the merger of three space and aeronautical entities to handle the country’s space programs.

Japan has a large number of space startups. Indeed, it is reported that as of October 2022, there was over 80 space startups in that country.

One of them, ispace, was in the headlines in April this year, when it attempted to become the first private company to land on the moon.

ispace moon japan space
Image credit: ispace

Unfortunately ispace lost contact with its Hakuto-R Mission 1 (M1) lander as it attempted to ‘soft-land’ it on the moon – defined as one which avoids damage to the lander – by slowing it down from nearly 6,000km/hour (3,700 mph).

ispace moon japan space
Conceptual illustration of ispace lunar landing. Image credit: ispace

Shortly after this attempt, ispace admitted it had lost contact with the M1 lander and it likely crashed landed in a ‘hard’ landing on the lunar surface, after it unexpectedly accelerated.