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FBI Director Promises Privacy, Information About Attacks To Breach Victim Organizations

Robert Mueller tells attendees FBI 'cannot act' if businesses don't report cyberattacks
SAN FRANCISCO -- RSA Conference 2010 -- Organizations are typically hesitant to disclose cyberattacks to the FBI, and their disclosure is "the exception, not the rule," FBI director Robert Mueller told attendees here today in a keynote address.

Mueller said the bureau understands organizations' concerns about privacy and image when it comes to deciding whether to report a cyberattack to the authorities, but promised the FBI would provide more information-sharing and protection of victim organizations' privacy.

"We do not want you to feel victimized a second time by an investigation. And we know that putting on raid jackets, courting the media, and shutting down your systems is not the best way to get the job done," he said. "We will minimize the disruption to your business. We will safeguard your privacy and your data. Where necessary, we will seek protective orders to preserve trade secrets and business confidentiality. And we will share with you what we can, as quickly as we can, about the means and methods of attack."

Mueller cited a recent partnership between the financial industry and the FBI to put together an intelligence report on threats in banking transactions. "We shared that report with more than 4,000 partners. Together we worked to limit the breadth and scope of this potential threat, and we closed the door to countless hackers," Mueller said. He did not provide any details on the threats or the report.

Meanwhile, the threat of cyberterrorism is "real and rapidly expanding," Mueller said. "To date, terrorists have not used the Internet to launch a full-scale cyberattack. But they have executed numerous denial-of-service attacks. And they have defaced numerous Websites, including Congress' Website following President Obama's State of the Union speech," he said, referring to the so-called Iranian Cyber Army hacking group.

"We in the FBI, with our partners in the intelligence community, believe the cyber terrorism threat is real, and it is rapidly expanding. Terrorists have shown a clear interest in pursuing hacking skills. And they will either train their own recruits or hire outsiders, with an eye toward combining physical attacks with cyberattacks."

Targeted attacks for intelligence and espionage are also a major threat, according to Mueller. He noted that intelligence-gathering efforts by hackers to grab "seemingly innocuous" data about a company can provide them a foot in the door into the company's network.

These targeted attacks have resulted in the loss and corruption of victims' data. "We are concerned with the integrity of your source code. If hackers made subtle, undetected changes to your code, they would have a permanent window into everything you do," he said.

The FBI and other law enforcement officials are currently reverse-engineering botnets with plans to knock them offline: Most recently, the collaborative effort resulted in the takedown of the Mariposa botnet.

Mueller said the FBI has special agents "embedded" with law enforcement in Romania, Estonia, and other countries to help coordinate cybercrime investigations. "Together we are making progress. Last October we worked with Egyptian authorities to dismantle a computer-intrusion and money-laundering scheme operating in the United States and Egypt," he said.

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