FBI Chief Says Cyber Attacks Doubled in a Year

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FBI Chief Says Cyber Attacks Doubled in a Year 2:41 p.m. ET (1941 GMT) March 28, 2000 By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON  The number of cyber crimes being investigated by the FBI has doubled in the past year and last month's attacks on leading Web sites are the tip of the iceberg, said FBI director Louis Freeh on Tuesday.

Addressing a Senate sub-committee of cyber crime, Freeh suggested changes to the law that would help to track down cyber criminals and make it easier to keep pace with the fastest growing area of crime in the United States.

In 1998, Freeh said the FBI had opened 547 "computer intrusion" cases and this more than doubled to 1,154 last year. In 1998, the FBI closed 399 of these cases and 912 last year.

"In short, even though we have markedly improved our capabilities to fight cyber-intrusions, the problem is growing even faster," he told the committee.

Cyber threats included disgruntled employees, hackers who "cracked" into networks for the thrill of it or for financial gain, and virus writers.

Criminal groups and terrorist organizations were also using technology more and more to raise funds, spread propaganda and communicate with each other.

Freeh declined to give details of the attacks last month on business Web sites such as Yahoo! (YHOO.O), eBay (EBAY.O) and Amazon.com (AMZN.O) as these were under investigation. But he said they were "the tip of the iceberg" and demonstrated the ease with which such crimes could be committed.

Freeh said U.S. laws had not kept pace with fast-changing technology, adding that the FBI was working with the justice department to propose a legislative package to update laws.

Responding to his comments, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer from New York said laws were set up at a "sub-sonic" speed at a time when they should be faster than the speed of light.

Schumer, who co-sponsored a hi-tech crime bill last month, said it was to break into the country's most prized computer networks. "The real key will be whether we can come up with appropriate solutions... without impinging on the rights of individuals and without slowing down the booming growth of the Internet."

Freeh said he did not want "extraordinary powers," just enough to deal with the phenomenal changes that have accompanied the Internet.

One problem was that to track down a cyber criminal, court orders often had to be issued in several states. "There is a needless waste of time and resources and a number of important investigations are either hampered or derailed entirely in those instances," Freeh said.

The use of administrative subpoenas would enable investigators to work more efficiently, he said.

Senators on the committee said some companies were reluctant to report cyber crimes for fear of harming their stock prices.

The president of the Information Technology Association of America, Harris Miller, told the committee few hi-tech firms were interested in being seen by customers as active law enforcement agents.

"No company wants information to surface that they have given in confidence that may jeopardize their market position, strategies, customer base or capital investments," he said.

Asked about the cooperation of foreign governments, Freeh cited the close relationship with Canada. A couple of weeks ago, Freeh said an FBI office in New Haven picked up an online statement from a youth who said he felt like "shooting up a school".

A 14-year-old in a small Canadian town was tracked down and found to have access to explosives and other weaponry.

Over the millennium period, Freeh said he had close contact with Far East and Middle Eastern countries and that FBI agents there had been given access to computers and hard drives to investigate threats against Americans.

Freeh said he had visited six areas in the Gulf recently and all had mentioned cyber crime. "The Internet has no boundaries or sovereignty," he said. http://www.foxnews.com/vtech/032800/hackers.sml

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 28, 2000

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