The Cyber Fusion Center, Existing Law, InfraGard Tools for Fighting Cyber-Crime

The threat of cyber-terrorism is something of a microcosm of larger counterterrorism challenges.

by / January 7, 2009

Cyber-security "requires extreme vigilance and close attention from the Department of Justice and the entire Executive Branch," Deputy Attorney General Mark R. Filip said in remarks prepared for delivery at the International Conference on Cyber Security yesterday.

Filip said the Justice Department and the rest of the federal government face three broad challenges with respect to cyber-crime: It cuts across national boundaries, it ignores bureaucracy and it targets critical infrastructure controlled by public and private entities.

Filip noted that the federal government is relatively comfortable with the division of labor occasioned by the relationship between law enforcement, the intelligence community and the military. But cyber-security vulnerabilities transcend national and bureaucratic boundaries, Filip said. "Spies and criminals from abroad can use the infrastructure of the Internet to steal information from locations in the United States without ever coming close to our shores."

Critical infrastructure is another area where responsibilities extend beyond the federal government. While the government can harden borders and government buildings on its own terms and more or less unilaterally, cyber-security is different. "The cyber-infrastructure of the U.S. government is closely linked to the national cyber-infrastructure that we all know and use," Filip said. And that infrastructure is largely made up of privately owned networks.

Filip observed that American economic security is quickly becoming linked to the country's ability to protect information in cyberspace. "Even if the government wanted to devise cyber-security policies without private input, these policies would have limited reach, and would not reach many of the most critical potential vulnerabilities in the
United States," he said. The nation's electrical grid, banking system and intellectual property held by corporations and universities are all vulnerable to cyber-attack.

The challenges of geographic and bureaucratic boundaries and the need for public/private partnerships are also the sorts of challenges that can be overcome either by creating new institutions or by subjecting them to sustained senior level attention within the executive branch, Filip said. "In the past few years we've done both. For the past few years... [cyber-security] has gotten a lot of attention among the senior ranks of the Department of Justice and the rest of the executive branch. And we're trying to build new institutions or change relevant laws to put our country on a better cyber footing."

The FBI has created a cyber-security fusion center in Pennsylvania to bring private parties and government investigators together to do the hard work of collaborating on cyber breaches and cyber threats.

The DOJ is focusing substantial energy on cooperating with other government agencies to address cyber espionage and cyber-terrorism threats. The department does this work at places like the Joint Terrorism Task Forces and the National Counterterrorism Center.

Additionally, the FBI has created InfraGard, a partnership between the government and private industry that encourages information sharing to better protect America's physical and electronic infrastructure. Through this partnership, FBI agents provide threat alerts and warnings, investigative updates and other information, while private sector partners share expertise and information that helps law enforcement track down criminals and terrorists.

While the borderless nature of the Internet does create new challenges for law enforcement, Filip said it was important to remember that U.S. laws "closely track geography and put limits on government and private action where data is resident in locations within this country."

International cooperation in fighting cyber crime is also increasing. For example, the Department of Justice chairs the G-8 High Tech Crime Group, which now includes over 50 countries. The group is designed to facilitate parallel criminal investigations with law enforcement agencies abroad and allow for quick cooperation on emerging and existing cyber-crime matters. The United States has also ratified the International Convention on Cyber-crime.

The Internet provides new opportunities for organized crime to prey on victims

nearly undetected. "Recently, we at the Justice Department and FBI worked successfully with our colleagues in Romania... to address cyber-crime targeting both Romania and the United States," Filip said. "In May of last year, I was privileged to join the Prosecutor General of Romania in announcing the indictment of 38 people who were part of an international cyber-crime ring, which was based primarily in Los Angeles and Bucharest, but also had tentacles extending throughout the world, including to Viet Nam and the Middle East."

These individuals carried out a "phishing" scheme that lured innocent people into disclosing personal information over the Internet, and then used that information to defraud thousands of victims of substantial millions of dollars. As a result of extremely close cooperation with Romanian authorities, nine people were arrested in the United States, and police in Romania conducted several searches yielding crucial evidence. This case has already resulted in several guilty pleas and the promise of several more.

This example demonstrates a couple of the challenges about the threats posed by organized crime. These new threats cannot be addressed without close international cooperation. "Even the relatively less sophisticated 'phishing' schemes such as the one I described was uncovered only after careful coordination between U.S. and Romanian authorities," Filip said. "More sophisticated schemes, and those that pose even larger threats to business and government infrastructure, or to financial systems, including perhaps those attacks sponsored by very sophisticated and powerful nations or other entities, will require even greater cooperation to defeat," he said.

Furthermore, the threat of cyber-terrorism is something of a microcosm of larger counterterrorism challenges, Filip said. Terrorists hide among open societies and use the freedom of movement that we all cherish as a shield to their plots. Cyberspace provides terrorists and groups with anonymous communications platforms to raise money, post propaganda, recruit jihadists, and plan and train for attacks throughout the globe.

"But we're also still at early stages of these efforts and there are substantial challenges remaining," he said. "We're now living in a world where technology moves much faster than the government typically moves, and where our adversaries are anxious to exploit every vulnerability that technological change can offer. Our response requires that the government be both nimble and effective at working in collaboration with the private sector. For now, I suspect our success will require very senior government officials to understand these threats and to commit agencies of government to overcome the hurdles that have in the past allowed inertia to slow our progress."