New FBI Initiative Will Identify And Trace Hackers

FBI Director Robert Mueller (Photo: FBI)

On Friday, the FBI announced a new initiative to track down and identify hackers. The program is an attempt to respond to hacking that had led to “malicious software in two million computers” in early 2011. The FBI describes the program as a way to “uncover and investigate web-based intrusion attacks and develop a cadre of specially trained computer scientists able to extract hackers’ digital signatures from mountains of malicious code.” Besides its relevance to individual computer users, hacking and the need for cybersecurity is becoming increasingly relevant to national security.

Word of the FBI’s new initiative comes on the heels of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s strong call for action earlier this month, when he said that cybersecurity is at a “pre-9/11 moment.” The FBI will share the information it gathers with the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and the National Security Agency.

Earlier this month the military announced similar efforts to counter cyber attacks directed at the U.S. But Panetta said there should be more emphasis on cybersecurity. “We know of specific instances where intruders have successfully gained access to these control systems,” he said. “We also know they are seeking to create advanced tools to attack those systems and cause panic, destruction and even loss of life.” Panetta added that the private sector and government should share information about cyber threats.

In the past year alone there have been several reports of international hackers targeting and attacking U.S.-based agencies and organizations like NASA and the Chamber of Commerce.

In July, John Arguila, a defense expert and professor, told the Guardian that the U.S. needed to recruit more hackers to join its side, adding that finding them through traditional means probably wouldn’t work because “most of these sorts of guys can’t be vetted in the traditional way. We need a new institutional culture that allows us to reach out to them.”

The Obama administration, hoping to circumvent a stalled Congress, is finalizing its draft executive cybersecurity order. The Associated Press, which received a copy of it last week, said the order “would put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of organizing an information-sharing network that rapidly distributes sanitized summaries of top-secret intelligence reports about known cyberthreats that identify a specific target.”