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    Japan's Alleged Death Threat-Making, Cat-Hacking Programmer Says He's Innocent

    Written by

    Daniel Stuckey


    Image by Manho Lei/Flickr. Adapted by the Author.

    A stray cat wandered the Japanese isle of Enoshima wearing a collar with a micro SD card attached to it. It was part of an elaborate scavenger hunt, the latest in a series of riddles sent to journalists and the police in January 2013. The hacker, who was behind a well-publicized series of mass murder threats in 2012, left it there. But eventually, when a surveillance camera spotted a man hanging out around the cat, it led to the arrest of a 30 year-old, Yusuke Katayama.

    Inside the memory card in the cat's collar, authorities found a resentful message criticizing the police along with versions of the virus (iesys.exe) used to carry out the threat messages, which were made remotely, through other people’s computers. If you hadn’t heard about the story in the news, you'd be forgiven for confusing it with the plot of a Haruki Murakami novel.

    In Tokyo District Court Wednesday, the former employee of a Japanese IT company wore a black suit, a wide smile, and pleaded not guilty to 10 charges brought against him. The Japan Times explained the string of threats were directed at “schools and kindergartens attended by the Emperor Akihito’s grandchildren,” as well as a Japan Airlines jet headed for New York. The plane had to stop midflight, costing the airline ¥9.75 million (about $93,000).

    The prosecution has 637 pieces of evidence it says it will use to build a case against Katayama, who insists the threats must have come from someone else, and appears confident he's off the hook. Katayama was convicted for making an internet death threat against a music label in the past, a crime for which he served 18 months, his plea of innocence appears to be unwavering. He argued that while he worked for an IT company, he’s not skillful enough to have created iesys.exe.

    Prosecutors say they found on Katayama’s office computer, searches for the words “cat” and “Enoshima” that predate the email of riddles sent to journalists. But the defense asserts that the real suspect would've planted the searches, recalling the untraceable nature of the virus, which was dispersed widely through the popular online forum, 2channel. The defense, meanwhile, called the allegations “complete nonsense."

    The National Police Agency’s (Japan’s FBI) search for the hacker at one point led to an offered reward of ¥3 million (about $30,000 dollars), kick-starting the expansion of its bounty program to include cybercrime.

    Hiroshi Sato, the lead attorney for Katayama’s trial, ridiculed the prosecution, and the police’s failure to “learn their lesson from the preceding wrongful arrests” made of four other men whose computers had been exploited by iesys.exe to relay the death threats. Two of them admitted guilt, which some worried was the result of an overly aggressive prosecution. But Katayama doesn't seem to be shaken, despite his previous conviction.