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FBI cyber crime chief on botnets, web terror and the social network threat

Date: April 16, 2008
Source: Management.silicon.com
By: Nick Heath

Scott O'Neal oversees the FBI's response to computer hacking and botnet attacks by criminals, terrorists and foreign powers.

The cyber division is one of the faster growing operational departments within the FBI. The growth of international cyber crime and terrorism over the past five years has spurred the FBI to establish dedicated cyber squads at each of its 56 field offices across the US and support 70 cyber task forces nationwide, backed up by global intelligence gathering by its Internet Crime Complaint Centre.

O'Neal works at the cyber division headquarters at the FBI main office in Washington. The division tackles computer intrusion and cyber crime. Computer intrusion mainly focuses on criminal hacking and distributed denial of service attacks but also deals with terrorist and state-sponsored threats. The cyber crime department's main priority is tackling child pornography but it also combats online fraud, such as phishing, and property rights investigations.

Here, O'Neal talks exclusively to silicon.com:

On the explosive growth of the FBI's cyber division
O'Neal: We are relatively new, we have been around only about five years and are the smallest but also probably the fastest-growing among the operational divisions. That of course is related to the nature of the cyber threat, the volume and the intensity is relatively new to us and everybody else. Four to five years ago there were several offices that may have had one or two agents tied to a white collar crime squad working cyber crime, now every field office has at least one dedicated cyber squad.

Social networking sites as infection hotbeds
The social websites are the big target now - MySpace, Facebook...People are less careful and more likely to click on a link or download something. They are open and people can put links or trade files with somebody. I refer to the latest threat report from Symantec, they are seeing a shift away from hacking individual computers to web-based threats.

How home users are fuelling the botnet networks
We think that this is one area where a lot can be done, individual users could do more to educate themselves on security and that would have an impact on the overall cyber threat. People are not doing the basics, using antivirus software, downloading patches, using firewalls, using passwords that are not easy to guess, being careful where they surf and what they click on and opening email with attachments coming from unknown sources.

Biggest threat facing computer users?
It will be botnets. They can be used for a wide variety of activities and also up near the top will be phishing. By volume and the economic impact they are right up there.

Cyber crime supermarkets
The marketing of cyber crime in general and botnets in particular is a growing threat. We are concerned we do see that because botnets are by nature a force multiplier. It's throwing it open to more people.

Terrorists on the web
We do know that terrorist organisations and jihadi groups use the internet for many purposes - communications recruiting, propaganda, intrusions and for internet fraud.

Cost of cyber crime
It ranges widely from 200bn down to 10-20bn. A lot of it doesn't get reported and there's different kinds of losses. There's the loss of dollars where an account has money stolen from it and then there's cost to a business where it has to fix damage to a network and damage to reputation in some circumstances.


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