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FBI’s Brief Expands to Combat Cyber Threats

The nation’s top law enforcement agency is rebooting its cybercrime capabilities.

In an effort to keep up with the evolving threats against property, critical infrastructure and human life posed by cyber-attacks –especially those launched by foreign adversaries – the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking to reposition its priorities and fortify its capacity to fight cybercrime.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, our nation’s and perhaps the world’s premier law enforcement agency, has a broad mandate to protect the United States and the American people. Among other things, it is the lead federal agency for investigating criminal cyber-attacks including from nation states and terrorist organizations.

The FBI recognizes the threat landscape is changing and acknowledges the growing prevalence that technology plays in criminal activity and the increase in state-sponsored cyberattacks. “Cyber intrusions are becoming more commonplace, more dangerous, and more sophisticated … [o]ur critical infrastructure, including both private and public sector networks, are targeted by adversaries,” said the agency.

The impetus for the FBI’s renewed push is the sheer number and sophistication of cybercrimes, mostly carried out by foreign adversaries – as cybercriminals and cybercrimes grow in number and sophistication, the agency acknowledges that it needs to evolve to keep pace. In recent media appearances and in Congressional testimony, FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged that the agency has ongoing economic espionage investigations traceable to China being handled in all 56 FBI field offices.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer delivered a grim assessment of the U.S.’s standing as a top military power according to a 57-page document reviewed by the news organization. The assessment – according to the Journal – blamed Navy officials for dropping the ball when it came to its training of contractors and subcontractors against cyber threats. Additional details were not disclosed.

Reflecting the widespread incidence of cyberattacks and the growing sense of urgency within the FBI, the Bureau has acknowledged that it must deploy increased technical aptitude at a human level by recruiting and retaining highly skilled agents and analysts.

The shift in the Bureau’s focus is reflected in the list of “Key priorities:”

  • Creating a dedicated cyber division “to address cybercrime in a coordinated and cohesive manner;”
  • Expanding the training regime for special agents at all 56 field offices to protect against, and investigation, computer intrusions, the theft of intellectual property, child pornography and online fraud;
  • Establishing “New Cyber Action Teams” as a rapid response to assist in cyber-attacks that “are the most dangerous to our national security and to our economy;” and
  • Partnering with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to address the growing challenges of cybercrime.

The Bureau’s shift in priority aligns with the nature of the evolving cyber threats facing the United States. Whether the reboot will result in an FBI that is better able to address threats presented by cybercriminals and state actors using sophisticated technology and other means to attack our Nation’s critical infrastructure still remains an open question.