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Japan Warns of Security Risk in Software for Language Input

Dec. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s government warned that certain software used for writing Japanese characters could lead to security leaks, including some programs made in China.

The National Information Security Center asked all central government ministries to avoid the programs when making confidential documents because a record of the writing can be sent to servers outside the country. The programs, made by Beijing-based Baidu Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc., allow people to use an English-language keyboard to write Japanese characters by spelling them phonetically.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry removed software programs made by Baidu from five PCs at its Tokyo headquarters, spokesman Makoto Higashiyama said. The ministry said it’s instead using programs made by Tokyo-based Justsystems Corp. and Microsoft. The warning preceded Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni shrine that risks escalating tensions with China.

“Baidu provides the service using a cloud server, which means content flows through servers in China,” Tsuneo Tosaka, IDC Japan’s Software & Security Research Manager, said in a telephone interview. “Government-related documents from Japan central ministries and findings from university research institutions are important, so there is a possibility that sensitive information leaks abroad.”

Related servers and all data remain within Japan and are under its regulation, Baidu said in an e-mailed statement.

Shrine Visit

The warning, which NISC issued to central government ministries Dec. 19, preceded Abe’s visit earlier today to the Yasukuni Shrine that memorializes war-dead including World War II criminals. The appearance by Abe, 59, at the Tokyo site drew a condemnation from China in less than an hour, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang saying in a statement that his nation “strongly” protests.

The visit is a contrast from Abe’s first administration in 2006-2007, when he stayed away from the shrine and oversaw an improvement in relations with China.

Japan’s Ministry of Education notified 170 universities, schools and other institutions to exercise caution when using the software that can access outside servers, such as the programs made by Google and Baidu, said Yasuhiro Saijo, a manager at the ministry. The department didn’t warn against specific company-branded software, according to Saijo.

Two PCs, which haven’t been used to convey confidential information, accessed outside servers at research institutions within the Ministry of Education, according to Saijo.

To contact the reporters on this story: Grace Huang in Tokyo at xhuang66@bloomberg.net; Lulu Yilun Chen in Hong Kong at ychen447@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Tighe at mtighe4@bloomberg.net

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