U.S. Attorney General Labels Cybercrime a ‘Critical Issue’

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Wednesday that cracking down on cybercrime is “one of the most critical issues that law enforcement has ever faced.”

In a hearing titled “Cybercrime,” Reno said, “I would simply say that we are taking the attacks very seriously and that we will simply do everything in our power to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.”

Reno asked the subcommittee for $37 million (US$) to battle online crime. The money would be used to hire 68 additional prosecuting attorneys and 100 additional FBI Computer Analysis and Response Team employees.

Progress in Catching Criminals

FBI Director Louis Freeh said that his agency is making good progress in investigating the recent spate of hackings. “There are fast-developing leads as we speak,” he said, “and hopefully we can provide more details in coming days.”

Freeh also characterized the investigation as “global,” targeting Germany and Canada, among other countries. The FBI’s 38 legal representatives overseas are all working on the case, he said.

In a related development, a 20-year-old German programmer known as Mixter — who created the software tools believed to have been used in some of last week’s attacks — wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press that he would co-operate with the FBI, but has not been questioned.

Cybercrime as a Growth Industry

Freeh told the committee that cybercrimes represent a realistic threat to national and economic security in the United States. He added that the FBI opened 547 “computer-intrusion cases” in 1998, and by 1999 that number had more than doubled to 1,154.

“In short, even though we have markedly improved our capabilities to fight cyber intrusions, the problem is growing even faster and we are falling further behind,” Freeh said. “Computer crime is one of the most dynamic problems the FBI faces today.”

He said that the cases ranged from hacking conducted by juveniles and disgruntled employees to sophisticated intrusions that the FBI feared were sponsored by foreign powers.

Reno cited a lack of equipment as part of the problem in tracking hackers. Suggesting that hackers have cutting edge technology at their disposal, the Attorney General said that the government’s equipment becomes obsolete within months, creating a need for funds to upgrade or replace computers.

The downside is the possibility of a “surveillance society,” Reno said. “We don’t want a surveillance society. We need to develop a means of insuring uniform standards for equipment and technology.”

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