FBI Focuses on Cybersecurity With $90M Budget Request

Never before has cyber been higher on the FBI's list of priorities. Will more money allow the feds to make a greater impact?

a pile of money
Source: Joy via Alamy Stock Photo

The FBI is requesting more than $63 million in new funding to fight cyber threats in 2024.

On April 27, FBI Director Christopher Wray presented before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, regarding his agency's share of President Biden's Fiscal Year 2024 budget request.

On the docket was foreign intelligence threats, violent crime, human trafficking, and more, but the director wasted no time getting to cyber. Barely 20 seconds into his opening statement, he launched into the problem of cyber threats to America, using China as a measuring stick.

"A key part of the Chinese government's multi-pronged strategy to lie, cheat, and steal their way to surpassing us as the global superpower is cyber," Wray told the committee. "To give you a sense of what we're up against, if each one of the FBI's cyber agents and intel analysts focused exclusively on the China threat, Chinese hackers would still outnumber FBI Cyber personnel by at least 50 to 1."

To help even the odds, the FBI request includes an additional 192 positions — 31 special agents, 8 intelligence analysts, and 153 other staff — plus $63.4 million "to enhance cyber information-sharing abilities and increase cyber tools and capacities," according to Wray's statement for the record. In addition, the request includes 4 jobs and an additional $27.2 million "to help protect internal FBI networks."

Will 90 million in new funding enable the FBI to make a meaningful dent in the worlds of cybercrime and nation-state APTs?

Can the FBI Help Clean Up Cyberspace?

The FBI has "a lot of very interesting capabilities and creative approaches to cyber," says Rex Booth, CISO at SailPoint. He witnessed the agency's work up close in his former capacities as chief of cyber threat analysis and senior advisor for CISA, as well as director of stakeholder engagement for the office of the national cyber director at the White House. "A lot of those impacts aren't going to be publicly visible," he admits, due to the nature of how government agencies operate, "but they're real."

And, increasingly, they are publicly visible. In recent months, the federal government has made headlines with takedowns of some of the world's biggest cybercrime rings and most dangerous threat actors.

"The FBI's ongoing efforts have produced profound impacts in the last few years," says Steve Stone, head of Rubrik Zero Labs. In light of that, $63 million feels like a drop in the bucket. "This is a handful of intrusions when it comes down to victim costs," he says, "and would likely produce far more than it would cost to fund."

Booth agrees. "The FBI is uniquely positioned to look into US-based cloud infrastructure that is increasingly used by adversaries to hide from the NSA. We need a well-funded FBI to cover this Achilles heel."

However, Booth points out, it's not all about the money.

The Role of the Private Sector

"The FBI is challenged to meet the needs of cyber victims," Booth says, citing how "their approach to incident response can be so disruptive to victim organizations that victims are reluctant to call in the first place. Funding will help, but victims need an approach that fosters recovery rather than treating their networks and systems like a crime scene for evidence collection."

Just as the FBI will have to learn to deal better with targeted organizations, so too will targeted organizations need to learn to help the FBI.

"As a law enforcement agency, the FBI culturally gravitates towards putting bad guys behind bars," Booth explains. "To make that happen, they need evidence. Enterprises can help by collecting the right kinds of records, logs, and artifacts that investigators need — and by proactively making them available when they come across something interesting."

Wray emphasized the importance of collaboration in his statement, noting how "we have been putting a lot of energy and resources into all those partnerships, especially with the private sector."

"The more the private sector can help," Stone concludes, "the better the DoJ and FBI can resource and take actions against bad actors."

About the Author(s)

Nate Nelson, Contributing Writer

Nate Nelson is a freelance writer based in New York City. Formerly a reporter at Threatpost, he contributes to a number of cybersecurity blogs and podcasts. He writes "Malicious Life" -- an award-winning Top 20 tech podcast on Apple and Spotify -- and hosts every other episode, featuring interviews with leading voices in security. He also co-hosts "The Industrial Security Podcast," the most popular show in its field.

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