The FBI is the lead federal agency for investigating cyber attacks by criminals, overseas adversaries, and terrorists. The threat is serious—and growing. Cyber intrusions are becoming more commonplace, more dangerous, and more sophisticated. Our nation’s critical infrastructure, including both private and public sector networks, are targeted by adversaries. American companies are targeted for trade secrets and other sensitive corporate data and universities for their cutting-edge research and development. Citizens are targeted by fraudsters and identity thieves, and children are targeted by online predators. Just as the FBI transformed itself to better address the terrorist threat after the 9/11 attacks, it is undertaking a similar transformation to address the pervasive and evolving cyber threat. This means enhancing the Cyber Division’s investigative capacity to sharpen its focus on intrusions into government and private computer networks.
Computer and Network Intrusions
The collective impact is staggering. Billions of dollars are lost every year repairing systems hit by such attacks. Some take down vital systems, disrupting and sometimes disabling the work of hospitals, banks, and 9-1-1 centers around the country.
Who is behind such attacks? It runs the gamut—from computer geeks looking for bragging rights, to businesses trying to gain an upper hand in the marketplace by hacking competitor websites, from rings of criminals wanting to steal personal information and sell it on black markets, to spies and terrorists looking to rob our nation of vital information or launch cyber strikes.
Today, these computer intrusion cases—counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal—are cyber program priorities because of their potential national security nexus.
In recent years, we’ve built a new set of technological and investigative capabilities and partnerships—so we’re as comfortable chasing outlaws in cyberspace as we are down back alleys and across continents. Those capabilities include:
- A Cyber Division at FBI Headquarters to address cyber crime in a coordinated and cohesive manner;
- Specially trained cyber squads at FBI headquarters and in each of our 56 field offices, staffed with agents and analysts who protect against and investigate computer intrusions, theft of intellectual property and personal information, child pornography and exploitation, and online fraud;
- New Cyber Action Teams that travel around the world on a moment’s notice to assist in computer intrusion cases and gather vital intelligence that helps us identify the cyber crimes that are most dangerous to our national security and to our economy;
- Our Computer Crimes Task Forces that combine state-of-the-art technology and the resources of our federal, state, and local counterparts;
- A growing partnership with other federal agencies—including the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and others—that share similar concerns and resolve in combating cyber crime.
Initiatives and Partnerships
The Internet Crime Complaint Center
The mission of the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is to provide the public with a reliable and convenient reporting mechanism to submit information to the FBI concerning suspected Internet-facilitated fraud schemes and to develop effective alliances with law enforcement and industry partners. Information is analyzed and disseminated for investigative and intelligence purposes to law enforcement and for public awareness.
Cyber Action Team
It can be a company’s worst nightmare—the discovery that hackers have infiltrated their computer networks and made off with trade secrets, customers’ personal information, and other critical data. Today’s hackers have become so sophisticated that they can overcome even the best network security measures. When such intrusions happen—and unfortunately, they occur frequently—the FBI can respond with a range of investigative assets, including the little-known Cyber Action Team (CAT). This rapid deployment group of cyber experts can be on the scene just about anywhere in the world within 48 hours, providing investigative support and helping to answer critical questions that can quickly move a case forward.
Established by the FBI’s Cyber Division in 2006 to provide rapid incident response on major computer intrusions and cyber-related emergencies, the team has approximately 50 members located in field offices around the country. They are either special agents or computer scientists, and all possess advanced training in computer languages, forensic investigations, and malware analysis. And since the team’s inception, the Bureau has investigated hundreds of cyber crimes, and a number of those cases were deemed of such significance that the rapid response and specialized skills of the Cyber Action Team were required. Some of those cases affected U.S. interests abroad, and the team deployed overseas, working through our legal attaché offices and with our international partners.
Members of the team make an initial assessment, and then call in additional experts as needed. Using cutting-edge tools, the team look’s for a hacker’s signature. In the cyber world, such signatures are called TTPs—tools, techniques, and procedures. The TTPs usually point to a specific group or person. The hackers may represent a criminal enterprise looking for financial gain or state-sponsored entities seeking a strategic advantage over the U.S.
National Cyber Forensics & Training Alliance
Long before cyber crime was acknowledged to be a significant criminal and national security threat, the FBI supported the establishment of a forward-looking organization to proactively address the issue. Called the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance (NCFTA), this organization—created in 1997 and based in Pittsburgh—has become an international model for bringing together law enforcement, private industry, and academia to build and share resources, strategic information, and threat intelligence to identify and stop emerging cyber threats and mitigate existing ones.
Since its establishment, the NCFTA has evolved to keep up with the ever-changing cyber crime landscape. Today, the organization deals with threats from transnational criminal groups including spam, botnets, stock manipulation schemes, intellectual property theft, pharmaceutical fraud, telecommunications scams, and other financial fraud schemes that result in billions of dollars in losses to companies and consumers.
The FBI Cyber Division’s Cyber Initiative and Resource Fusion Unit (CIRFU) works with the NCFTA, which draws its intelligence from the hundreds of private sector NCFTA members, NCFTA intelligence analysts, Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. This extensive knowledge base has helped CIRFU play a key strategic role in some of the FBI’s most significant cyber cases in the past several years.
Safe Online Surfing
The FBI Safe Online Surfing (FBI-SOS) program is a nationwide initiative designed to educate children in grades 3 to 8 about the dangers they face on the Internet and to help prevent crimes against children.
It promotes cyber citizenship among students by engaging them in a fun, age-appropriate, competitive online program where they learn how to safely and responsibly use the Internet.
The program emphasizes the importance of cyber safety topics such as password security, smart surfing habits, and the safeguarding of personal information.
For more information, visit the Safe Online Surfing website.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, “Cyber Crime” https://www.fbi.gov/ website. Accessed January 9, 2020. https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber
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