The Japanese Defense Ministry is developing a computer virus aimed at seeking and destroying cyber attacks launched against the country, according to local media reports.
The malware-fighting cyberweapon, which is being created by defense contractor Fujitsu for an estimated $2.3 million, has the ability to identify the source of a cyber attack with a high level of accuracy, then replicate itself from computer to computer, cleaning up viruses across the network, according to the Japanese new site The Yomiuri Shimbun.
The cyberweapon, which has been in development since 2008, has been tested in a closed network environment and was developed for defense, but Japanese lawmakers must create new legislation allowing for its use because it would appear to violate current Japanese law, the site reported.
News of the effort comes amid growing concern over cyber attacks in Japan. Last year, Japan's parliament, Japanese defense contractor Mitsubishi Heavy and several of Japan's overseas diplomatic missions were targeted by hackers, according to local media.
Japan's development of a cyberweapon is part of what some experts see as a growing cyber arms race. The Stuxnet computer virus, which damaged Iran's nuclear program in 2010, was one of at least five cyber weapons developed on a single platform, according to Russian computer security firm Kaspersky Lab. Security experts believe the United States and Israel were behind Stuxnet, though the two nations have not accepted responsibility.
In a blog post, Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant for security firm Sophos, said there have been other attempts to create viruses designed for benevolent reasons, such as a computer worm designed to combat child pornography.
But Cluley said the effort in Japan could have unintended consequences, such as being difficult to control or destroying evidence needed to locate the infection on the network.
"An out-of-control 'good' virus could spread randomly or unexpectedly from machine to machine, meaning it may be hard to contain," he wrote in a blog post.
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