FBI: Cyber attacks may soon be top threat to USA

Cyber-attacks loom as the top threat to the United States in the near future, officials of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation said.

A report on PC World quoted FBI Director Robert Mueller as citing threats from hackers, including state-sponsored ones.

"(While terrorism remains the FBI's top priority) in the not too distant future, we anticipate that the cyber threat will pose as the No. 1 threat to our country," it quoted Mueller as saying.

Mueller, who spoke at the RSA Conference, said state-sponsored hackers are patient and calculating.

He said they have the time, the money and the resources to burrow in and wait – in the process taking bits of seemingly innocuous information.

"You may discover one breach, only to find that the real damage has been done at a much higher level," he said.

On the other hand, he said there are hackers for profit who seek information not for political power but for sale to the highest bidder.

He said these once-isolated hackers have joined forces to create criminal syndicates as organized cyber-crime promises higher profit and a lower chance of being identified and prosecuted.

"Unlike traditional crime families, these hackers may never meet, but they possess specialized skills in high demand. They exploit routine vulnerabilities. They move in quickly, make their money, and disappear. No company is immune, from the Fortune 500 corporation to the neighborhood 'mom and pop' business," he said.

Applying lessons from fighting terrorism

For now, Mueller said there are two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be.

But even now, he said they are converging into one category: companies that have been hacked and will be hacked again.

"Given that scenario, we must limit the data that can be gleaned from any compromise. We must segregate mission-centric data from routine information. And we must incorporate layers of protection and layers of access to critical information," he said.

Mueller said the FBI needs to take lessons learned from fighting terrorism and apply them to cyber-crime.

"We are creating a structure whereby a cyber-agent in San Francisco can work in a virtual environment with an agent in Texas, an analyst in Virginia, and a forensic specialist in New York to solve a computer intrusion that emanated from Eastern Europe," he said.

He said they must cultivate the sources necessary to "infiltrate criminal online networks, to collect the intelligence to prevent the next attack, and to topple the network from the inside."

"We must ensure that our ability to intercept communications -- pursuant to court order -- is not eroded by advances in technology. These include wireless technology and peer-to-peer networks, as well as social media," he said.

Hundreds of thousands of attacks a day

For his part, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at a conference at the University of Louisville that the US is "literally getting hundreds or thousands of attacks every day that try to exploit information in various [US] agencies or departments."

"There are, obviously, growing technology and growing expertise in the use of cyber-warfare. The danger is, I think, [that] the capabilities are available in cyber to virtually cripple this nation: to bring down the power grid, to impact on our governmental systems, to impact on Wall Street and our financial system and to literally paralyze this country," Panetta said.

"So the one thing I worry about is in knowing these things are possible and feeling that we haven't taken all the necessary steps we need to protect this country," he said. — LBG, GMA News

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