3-29-2019 FBI Retools To Counter Cyber Threats, 4-12-2019 Thousands Of FBI Personal Data Is Stolen (#GotBitcoin?)
Push comes as federal investigators grapple with attacks sponsored by foreign adversaries. 3-29-2019 FBI Retools To Counter Cyber Threats, 4-12-2019 Thousands Of FBI Personal Data Is Stolen (#GotBitcoin?)
The FBI has launched its biggest transformation since the 2001 terror attacks to retrain and refocus thousands of special agents to combat cyber criminals, whose threats to lives, property and critical infrastructure has outstripped U.S. efforts to thwart them.
The push comes as federal investigators grapple with an expanding range of cyber attacks sponsored by foreign adversaries against businesses or national interests, including Russian election interference and Chinese cyber thefts from American companies, senior bureau executives said.
The Navy concluded recently that it was under “cyber siege” by China and others, and FBI Director Christopher Wray has said the agency has economic espionage investigations leading back to China open in all 56 bureau field offices.
“It’s very analogous to the shift after 9/11,” said Amy Hess, the new head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s criminal, cyber, response and services branch, in an interview. “I grew up in the FBI working criminal investigation—I worked violent crimes and gangs and drugs. And then, 9/11 happened. And we all, it felt like, were shifted to work terrorism. And so I think now, you’re seeing the same thing” with cybersecurity.
Data support the need for an across-the-board evolution at the FBI. Law-enforcement action is taken against less than 1% of malicious cyber incidents, according to an analysis of public data by Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington. Investigations, as a result, typically only focus on the most severe cyber threats, such as nation-state attacks or sophisticated transnational crime.
“The FBI is still an order or two of magnitude below where they need to be in scale of resources in terms of cyber,” said Garrett Graff, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Cybersecurity and Technology Program. Mr. Graff, who has written books about the bureau, said that despite recent progress, only about four or five FBI field offices have the resources and know-how to pursue the most complex cyber cases.
The FBI, formed in 1908 as a tiny office within the Justice Department tasked with combating prostitution, bank robberies and bootlegging, gradually inherited a sprawling law-enforcement mission that encompasses organized crime, foreign espionage and drug trafficking.
After the 2001 attacks, the FBI pivoted toward counterterrorism, aiming to dismantle networks of terrorists at home and abroad. Nearly 20 years later, the threat landscape has changed, Ms. Hess said, amid the rise of digital platforms for communications and commerce, and along with them, criminality.
Expanding technological aptitude at the FBI has been a priority for nearly two decades. At the time of the 2001 attacks, many FBI officials didn’t have computers, and the bureau’s sprawling case files weren’t digitized or organized.
Technological change over the past several years has altered the nature of domestic and international crime to the point that virtually all investigations include a significant cyber component, Ms. Hess said.
“The future of cyber, that’s the future of the organization. That’s the future of the world,” she said. “We’ve got to be thinking about how our adversaries think about cyber—whether it’s a nation-state or just an individual criminal for-profit type of attack. Because that’s the way we are increasingly doing business.”
The FBI’s cyber division saw a complete turnover of leadership last year, as several top executives departed for lucrative private-sector jobs amid concerns about flagging morale. Voluntary attrition of FBI special agents remains low at 0.6% overall, while the rate of departures of special agents who work in the cyber division is between 2% and 3%, according to a bureau spokeswoman.
Ms. Hess, who assumed her current role in September, previously ran the Louisville, Ky., field office and oversaw the FBI’s science and technology branch. She has been mentioned within the bureau as possibly in line for the agency’s second- or third-ranking position, according to several former law-enforcement officials.
Both Ms. Hess and Tonya Ugoretz, tapped as the deputy assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division in November, identified morale as a priority. They each are the first woman to occupy their respective posts in a field—and agency—that has been dominated by men.
Improving recruitment and retention is one part of a larger effort to make sure all FBI agents possess a baseline level of cyber competency, both officials said.
“We recognize that we’re not solely going to hire our way out of this challenge,” said Ms. Ugoretz, who started at the FBI focused on counterterrorism in 2001. “We also have to look at our workforce and attack this at multiple levels.”
President Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposes $732 million for cybersecurity for the FBI—a 7.6% increase from the current fiscal year.
Some former officials said the FBI must do a better job of integrating cybersecurity into all of its criminal and counterterrorism efforts at all levels, rather than seeing it as a specialty skill set.
“As other people have said, there’s no telephone division,” said Jim Baker, former general counsel at the FBI who now works on cybersecurity policy at the think tank R Street. “Cyber is both a means and an ends for criminals.”
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