Organized cyber crime is replacing terrorism as the number one threat to the American nation, says the FBI chief.
The bureau is preparing to battle internet-based aggressors with recently created cyber-squads policing the web.
The Cyber Crime section of the FBI website pledges that the bureau is ready to defend America from the cyber space threat. This vow, however, did not help much when the bureau’s website went down after a massive attack by Anonymous hacktivists on January 20.
Over the last few months, the Anonymous hacker community attacked the websites of the White House, CIA, FBI, Department of Justice, US Department of Homeland Security, Universal Music Group, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America.
Just as the internet is not a boys’ toy anymore, hackers are no longer boys, either. Nowadays, previously “isolated hackers have joined forces to form criminal syndicates," FBI boss Robert Mueller said at the RSA security conference in San Francisco on Thursday.
These syndicates are often international, so this poses additional difficulties because it takes close work with foreign security agencies to achieve a result in the material world, while the internet knows neither borders nor boundaries, Mueller explained.
"We are losing money, we are losing data, we are losing ideas," he added. "Together we must find a way to stop the bleeding."
Back in June 2011 the Obama administration was pressuring Congress to double the punishment for those found guilty of compromising national security. The new legislation proposed a 20-year prison sentence for breaking into a US government computer.
In January, the FBI director told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the agency’s top priority is still counterterrorism, but the cyber threat will take the lead in the foreseeable future.
“Traditional” terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda are very active over the web, too, Mueller acknowledged.
Terrorists find the internet handy for recruiting new members and encouraging extremism.Mueller had to admit to security experts that flocked to the conference that no company or organization could be immune to cyber threats.
And as the roll of spoils of the cyber war grows longer, America’s top cop has to head for help to private sector cyber security experts.
Mueller shared his hope that high-tech companies could give the authorities a hand, because sometimes private sector security experts see threats just as they emerge. Only joint efforts by police, intelligence and private companies are capable of combating cyber attacks, he said.
“We must use our connectivity to stop those who seek to do us harm,” he said.
This change of rhetoric from US law enforcement was expected. The FBI is already using the branded “cyber-based terrorism” term, so the shift of efforts from “just terrorism” to “cyber terrorism” will be a smooth one.