US Justice Dept. focuses new squad on cybercrime combat

Cybercrime gets greater focus on emerging cyber-threats

The threat and consequences of cybersecurity attacks today lead the US Department of Justice to reorganize in an effort to better battle the scourge.

The changes announced by John Carlin, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security included the appointment of a new Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and a new Chief of Staff and Counselor, as well as the creation of a new Deputy Assistant Attorney General position to oversee DOJ’s National Security Division’s efforts to protect national assets, including its efforts to combat economic espionage, proliferation, and cyber-based national security threats.  This position will oversee the work of the National Security Cyber Specialists (NSCS) Network, consisting of prosecutors in each of the U.S. Attorney’s Offices who focus on cyber threats to the national security. 

“The threat landscape we face is ever-changing and evolving, and while our top priority will always be combatting terrorism, we must also sharpen our focus and increase our attention on the emerging threats of economic espionage and proliferation,” said Carlin in a statement.  “We have assembled a talented, dedicated and experienced team of seasoned professionals to launch this new phase for the National Security Division.  These changes will help us continue confronting today’s threats while readying the NSD workforce to engage what we see as the key emerging threats to our national security.”

The current Anti-Terrorism and Advisory Council (ATAC) Coordinator program will be re-designated as the National Security Coordinator/ATAC program, to better reflect its ongoing work on the full range of national security threats, including combating economic espionage.

The changes will likely bring many new federal court cases around cyber breaches and crime.

The new NSD leadership team members have plenty of DOJ cybersecurity law expertise include Mary McCord to serve as the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General; Anita Singh as Chief of Staff and Counselor; and Luke Dembosky as the newest Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

According to a Reuters report on the revamp, the changes come amid reports that hackers in Russia and elsewhere are targeting everyone from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, to JP Morgan Chase & Co and other financial institutions.

Even without the new group the DOJ has been busy with some high profile cases this year.

In May the DOJ filed computer hacking charges against five suspected members of the Chinese army. The IDG News Service wrote of the charges: The charges represent the first time the DOJ has filed computer fraud charges against state-sponsored hackers, and the indictments come after a yearlong debate about cyber surveillance at the U.S. National Security Agency, based on leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The chances of the five alleged members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army ending up in a U.S. court are "nil," but the charges point to an effort by the Obama administration to take back a narrative it was pushing with China before the Snowden leaks about the dangers of state-sponsored hacking, said David Fidler, a professor focused on cybersecurity issues at the Indiana University law school.

Also in May the DOJ shuttered the Blackshades malware operation, which sold potentially pernicious software that was installed on as many as 500,000 computers worldwide.

In June, the DOJ was part of the law enforcement effort to disrupt Gameover Zeus, a 2-year-old botnet employing an estimated 500,000 to 1 million compromised computers. The FBI estimates that Gameover Zeus, which targets banking credentials and other personal information, is responsible for more than US$100 million in losses. At the same time, U.S. and foreign law enforcement officials worked together to seize computer servers central to Cryptolocker, a form of ransomware that encrypts files on victims' computers until they pay a ransom.

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