FBI Chief dishes on technology, insider threats and cyber criminals

FBI Director Robert Mueller calls for more industry wiretap support

Technology has allowed the FBI to better fight all manner of crime but it has also enabled cybercriminals and others to rapidly morph and change tactics that can be difficult to keep up with.

Those were just a couple of the sentiments expressed by the Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller before a  House Judiciary Committee hearing this week where he also took a swipe at the tech industry for "lacking the capability to intercept communications undertaken with their products," or basically offering technologies that can be wiretapped at will, should a major threat to the United States arise.

"The FBI's evolution has been made possible by greater use of technology to gather, analyze, and share information on current and emerging threats; by expansion of collaboration with new partners, both domestically and internationally; and by investments in training, developing, and maximizing our workforce. The FBI continues to be successful in maintaining this momentum of transformation even during these challenging times," Mueller stated.

"Technological advancements and the Internet's expansion continue to provide malicious cyber actors the opportunity to harm US national security and the economy. Given the consequences of such attacks, the FBI must be able to keep pace with this rapidly developing and diverse threat," he said. 

Highlights from Mueller's testimony follow:  

  • To date, terrorists have not used the Internet to launch a full-scale cyber-attack, but we cannot underestimate their intent. Terrorists have shown interest in pursuing hacking skills. And they may seek to train their own recruits or hire outsiders, with an eye toward pursuing cyber-attacks. These adaptations of the terrorist threat make the FBI's counterterrorism mission that much more difficult and challenging.
  • Cyber-attacks and crimes are becoming more commonplace, more sophisticated, and more dangerous. The scope and targets of these attacks and crimes encompass the full range and scope of the FBI's national security and criminal investigative missions. Our national security secrets are regularly targeted by foreign and domestic actors; our children are targeted by sexual predators and traffickers; our citizens are targeted for fraud and identity theft; our companies are targeted for insider information; and our universities and national laboratories are targeted for their research and development. Since 2002, the FBI has seen an 84% increase in the number of computer intrusions investigations opened. Hackers-whether state sponsored, criminal enterprises, or individuals-constantly test and probe networks, computer software, and computers to identify and exploit vulnerabilities.
  • To counter the cyber threat, the FBI has cyber squads in each of our 56 field offices. The FBI now has more than 1,000 specially trained agents, analysts, and digital forensic examiners that run complex undercover operations and examine digital evidence. Along with 20 law enforcement and intelligence agency partners, the FBI is the executive agent of the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force. The task force operates through Threat Focus Cells-smaller groups of agents, officers, and analysts from different agencies, focused on particular threats.
  • In April of this year, the FBI brought down an international "botnet" known as Coreflood. Botnets are networks of virus-infected computers controlled remotely by an attacker. To shut down Coreflood, the FBI took control of five servers the hackers had used to infect some two million computers with malware. In an unprecedented step, after obtaining court approval, we responded to the signals sent from the infected computers in the United States and sent a command that stopped the malware, preventing harm to hundreds of thousands of users.
  • Over the past year, the FBI and our partners have also pursued members of Anonymous, who are alleged to have coordinated and executed distributed denial of service attacks against various Internet companies. To date, 16 individuals have been arrested and charged in more than 10 states as part of this ongoing investigation. According to the indictment, the Anonymous group referred to the DDoS attacks as "Operation Avenge Assange" and allegedly conducted the attacks in support of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The defendants are charged with various counts of conspiracy and intentional damage to a protected computer.
  • While foreign intelligence services continue traditional efforts to target political and military intelligence, counterintelligence threats now include efforts to obtain technologies and trade secrets from corporations and universities. The loss of critical research and development data, intellectual property, and insider information poses a significant threat to national security. For example, last year, Noshir Gowadia was sentenced to 32 years in prison for selling secrets to foreign nations. For 18 years, Gowadia had worked as an engineer at Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor that built the B-2 stealth bomber. Gowadia, a naturalized United States citizen from India, decided to offer his knowledge of sensitive design aspects of the B-2 to anyone willing to pay for it. He sold highly classified information about the B-2's stealth technology to several nations and made six trips to China to assist them in the development of stealth technology for their cruise missiles. Cases like this illustrate the growing scope of the "insider threat" from employees who use their legitimate access to steal secrets for the benefit of another company or country.
  • The FBI's fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request totals $8.2 billion in direct budget authority, including 34,083 permanent positions (13,018 special agents, 3,025 intelligence analysts, and 18,040 professional staff). This funding level continues increases provided to the Bureau in the past, most recently in FY 2012, allowing the FBI to maintain its forward progress, including targeting additional resources on investigating financial and mortgage fraud.

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