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
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
“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
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
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
“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.