Cyber threats on the rise, FBI official says

Malicious cyber activity has grown more prevalent and sophisticated during the past year and threats come from organized crime groups, terrorist organizations and foreign governments, according to a senior FBI official.

The increase in activity and sophistication poses a criminal and national security threat and has raised concerns from the government, the private sector and the country's overseas partners, Shawn Henry, an assistant director of the FBI who runs its Cyber Division, told reporters today. Henry said the current threats involve denying access to networks, compromising or changing data to affect its integrity and the theft of data.

“The amount of information that has been stolen is significant. There are no shortage of actors that are interested in stealing the data from a criminal perspective and from a national security perspective,” he said. “Over the past year the malicious activity has become much more sophisticated, much more prevalent.”

Henry also said the use of botnet attacks to spread malicious code and access networks continues to increase.

Henry said he thinks a greater awareness by criminals that cyber activities offer them access to more potential victims, greater potential rewards and the perception that the threat of incarceration is not as great as that for physical crime have led to the recent increase in financial losses from cyber crime.

Henry also said a “couple of dozen” countries that have an interest in stealing information from the United States have turned to electronic means to steal that information, but he declined to identify those countries.

“We’ve seen organized groups that have gotten together virtually where they have never physically met in the real world, but they get together online in a collaborative environment,” Henry said.

He said the FBI has tried to prioritize and forge partnerships.

“From a prioritization perspective, we can’t respond to every attack,” he said, adding that the volume of attacks was substantial and the attacks were sophisticated.

Henry said forging partnerships with state and local authorities, the private sector and foreign governments was also critical to fighting cyber crime.

In January, President Bush signed a classified presidential directive implementing the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI), the government’s multi-year, multi-billion dollar effort to secure cyberspace.

When asked about FBI’s role in the CNCI, Henry mentioned the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force that he said will allow the FBI to improve situational awareness regarding investigations in the bureau's field offices. In addition, he said if the Homeland Security Department identified an intrusion in the .gov network, the FBI would perform the investigation.

Henry said since the inception of the the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which the FBI co-founded in May 2000, the bureau has received more than a million online complaints. The center currently receives from 18,000 to 20,000 complaints each month, or about 200,000 complaints annually.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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