RealTime IT News

FBI Hunkered in The Bunker

WASHINGTON -- Imagine this on your plate every morning: terrorist cyber attacks, malicious coders, online sexual predators, phishers, pirates, spammers and scammers.

On the other hand, imagine you have this going for you: the best the world's only super power can give you in personnel, intelligence, hardware and software with cost overruns no problem.

Meet Steve Martinez, cyber G-man.

"Let me be the first to say, we don't have all the answers," Martinez, the deputy assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division, somberly stresses, noting global cadres of sophisticated hackers who'll work for meals. Grifter malicious coders, don't even ask.

Headquarters is the J. Edgar Hoover Building, once a popular Washington tourist destination but now a downtown bunkered fortress surrounded by a 20-foot deep dry moat. Martinez can be found on an indeterminable floor down a long series of halls.

His division is the lead federal law enforcement agency for investigating cyber attacks by foreign adversaries and terrorists. The Cyber Division is also responsible for preventing online criminals from using the Internet to steal, defraud and otherwise victimize U.S. citizens, businesses and communities.

The division is split into four squads: Computer Intrusions, Cyber Crimes Specialized Technologies and Analysis and Information Sharing and Analysis. The FBI declined to name the actual number of employees in the division, but Martinez said the Washington office has approximately 100 agents with a support staff of about 300 analysts and programmers.

In addition, the Cyber Division maintains a "field footprint" with specialized cyber squads at most FBI field offices. Mobile Cyber Action Teams (CATS) assist with specialized expertise anywhere in the world. The FBI maintains Regional Computer Forensic Laboratories throughout the country to help state and local law enforcement.

"Cyber cuts across all [FBI] priorities. A [cyber] attack can come from anywhere and from anyone," Martinez says. "Any place that potentially is a place where the bad guys are operating, we need to get there."

Sometimes, they actually do.

In September, an FBI raid on the home of Alan Ralsky of suburban Detroit put one of the world's most notorious spammers out of business. Just 12 days after the Zotob worm hit the Internet in August, the FBI found the perps in Turkey and Morocco.

Last year, a cyber crime sweep known as Operation Web Snare targeted 350 individuals for major forms of online economic crimes, resulting in 103 arrests.

Sometimes, the FBI is less successful.

The 2005 CSI/FBI Computer Crime and Security Survey, produced by the Computer Security Institute (CSI) and San Francisco FBI's Computer Intrusion Squad, reported that while average losses were down, computer attacks are up. There's been no dent in online child pornography. Spam continues unabated.

"What we're seeing is a convergence of traditional crime such as fraud and extortion with non-traditional crime such as malicious intrusions," Martinez said. "The sophistication of the hacks is really upping the ante. Robotic networks are a big threat."

Much of the online crime underworld, Martinez said, is now foreign-based. "It's a very significant rate," he says. "The former Soviet block states are a big problem for us."

Domestically, the Cyber Division faces additional non-crime-related challenges from private enterprise over disclosure of hacks and privacy advocates concerned over Internet wiretaps.

"There's still a concern [among private enterprise] that reporting [hacks] will put them at a competitive disadvantage," Martinez said. "We have an ongoing dialogue with them about what [type of information] would be helpful."

As for wiretaps, Martinez warns in the finest G-man tradition that the FBI will "get the job done, no matter what."

Civil libertarians and privacy advocates have gone to court to block a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order for all Voice over IP providers to make their systems compliant with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).

The law requires telephone companies to build a standard wiretap backdoor into their systems.

Martinez said the FBI will "deploy [wiretaps] by whatever means available" in the event of a court defeat. "There are some tech issues but none that can't be overcome," he said.

The only real issue, according to the FBI, is whether there will be a standard wiretap interface or if each legally obtained wiretap order will have to be customized.

"We have to [wiretap]," Martinez said. "The terrorists are beginning to use them."

Which is just one more thing to add to Martinez's plate.