Thursday, October 8, 2009

FBI Director Robert Mueller: Combatting Invisible Crimes

FBI Director Robert Mueller talks tough on cyber-crime. (Commonwealth Club photo by John Zipperer.)

FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed an afternoon crowd at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco onWednesday to discuss the threat of cyber terrorism and the ways in which his department is combating the rapidly growing epidemic. Mueller, who was appointed by President Bush just days before the September 11 attacks, emphasized that in this technological age, everyone must be aware of the cyber threats that face them as individuals, and also as citizens of the United States. “Our lives are impacted by the Internet all of the time, whether we can see it or not,” he said.

On the heels of the FBI’s arrest of more than 100 Eyptian and American “phishing” scammers, Mueller noted that many U.S. citizens are unaware of the threats against their privacy and national security. He admitted that even he, himself, had almost fallen prey to a phishing scam, in which hackers imitate official organizations such as banks and ask unsuspecting recipients for confidential information. “We all must take ownership of cyber security,” Mueller continued, stressing that perpetrators and victims can come from anywhere across the globe. “We are all citizens of the Internet,” he said. “We all must invest in cyber security.”

Though many of the cyber attacks aimed at the United States come from Eastern Europe, Mueller stated that the partnerships that the FBI has with European counterparts has helped combat these threats tremendously. He cited the relationship with Romania as particularly beneficial, and added that in just the past year joint forces have arrested over 100 people both in Romania and at home. He also said that FBI agents are “embedded” within some Eastern European police forces to help them find cyber criminals.

However, Mueller also indicated that because of the anonymity of the Internet, it is often “difficult to attribute the origin of the attack.” He stressed that certain countries, such as Somalia and Algeria, work closely with U.S. intelligence to combat these threats, but because of their unstable political and social situations, it is sometimes difficult. He also underlined the significance of employing native Arabic speakers to contribute to the counter-cyber-terrorism efforts, though he stated that the numbers are not where he would like them to be. “We are a nation of immigrants, and we need to reflect that,” he said.

When an audience member questioned why we should worry about our e-mail being read by the teenage hacker and not by the FBI, he responded, “You should be worried about the teenage hacker.” He noted that it was a teenage hacker who had created one of the biggest online disruptions.

In closing, an elementary school teacher asked Mueller what advice he would give to students who are now using the Internet, in particular social networking sites like Facebook, in unprecedented numbers. He responded with words of caution, emphasizing the permanence of information put into cyberspace. “Anything and everything you put on the Internet will be seen by persons down the road,” he said. “It may well come back to haunt you. Be very careful what you put on the Internet.”

Perhaps having learned his lesson from his online banking victimhood, Mueller noted, “I do not have a Facebook page.”

--Commonwealth Club Media and Public Relations Department


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