Comey seeks $85M boost for FBI cyber

Image copyright to FBI: James Comey.

FBI Director James Comey told a Capitol Hill panel that the Bureau needs more funds to combat cybercrime.

FBI Director James Comey told House appropriators Feb. 25 that the additional $85 million the FBI wants for cybersecurity in fiscal 2017 would yield demonstrable payoffs in better hardware and software.

Most of that additional money will go toward buying better IT and providing cybersecurity training, Comey told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.

"We have to have equipment that is at least as good as the bad guys, so that we can move information, analyze information, and respond to the threat as fast as it comes at us, which is at the speed of light," he said.

The Bureau's budget request says the FBI will use the additional funding to "obtain updated and sophisticated IT hardware, IT software, and contractors to expand the foundation of its offensive and defensive operations."

In Feb. 24 testimony before the same subcommittee, Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke directly to the need to upgrade the Justice Department's aging IT systems.

Many federal agencies, including Justice, are "at a point where we're dealing with the greatest of last century's technology, in many ways" Lynch said. "Systems are approaching end of life, systems are changing [and] the cost of maintaining the systems are growing."

Lawmakers on the subcommittee were generally supportive of the idea of increasing the FBI's cybersecurity funding and, in at least one case, giving the bureau an enhanced role in federal cyber policy.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), the subcommittee's chairman, said the fiscal 2016 appropriations bill had rightly given the FBI a greater role in reviewing the IT supply chain of federal agencies.

Following the heed of that legislation, the FBI sent a primer on supply chain security to federal agencies, Comey said.

"You can spend all the time in the world making sure that foreign states aren't penetrating the top corporation in the chain, but if they get in down below, they're going to wreak just as much havoc," Comey added. "So we have tried to train the rest of the federal procurement world on how to think about that."

The FBI's fiscal 2017 budget request includes $69.3 million to address the challenges that end-to-end encryption and online anonymity pose to law enforcement -- more than double the $31 million spent on those issues in fiscal 2016. It comes at the height of a public feud between Apple Inc. and the FBI over a court order to compel Apple to help unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters.

"I don't fully, honestly, understand all of the argument about privacy" that Apple and others are making, Comey told lawmakers. "My view of this matter is this is a single phone in a very important investigation, where the ask is to write a piece of software that will work only in that phone."

In an interview with ABC News that aired Feb. 24, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the opposite – that the case is not about just one phone but rather the civil liberties of millions of people. The court order is asking Apple to write the "software equivalent of cancer," Cook said.

Apple on Feb. 25 filed a motion opposing the federal court order, arguing that Apple's compliance would create a backdoor for hackers, identify thieves and "unwarranted government surveillance."

The surge in "going dark" funding the FBI is seeking will go toward things like "electronic device analysis, cryptanalytic capability and forensic tools," the budget request states. Comey would not comment when asked by FCW after the hearing to articulate what tools might be on his radar.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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