FBI director stresses collaboration in fighting cybercrime

  • FILE - In this Dec. 9, 2019, file photo, FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Washington. Wray is delivering the keynote address at a conference on cybersecurity on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, at Boston College. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File) Jacquelyn Martin

For the Gazette 
Published: 3/6/2020 11:52:13 PM
Modified: 3/6/2020 11:52:00 PM

BOSTON — Fighting cybercrime in a world that is increasingly doing business online will require new approaches, including greater collaboration across nations and the business and academic communities, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“An audience like this recognizes that the old approach of tackling the cyberthreat one case at a time isn’t going to work,” Wray told a crowd at the fourth annual Boston Conference on Cyber Security at Boston College this week. “As soon as we find and stop one cybercriminal, another one pops up.”

Wray’s second tenure in government said he’s seen some positive changes in the way the agency works across borders and sectors to more effectively take down cyberthreats.

“I have been particularly encouraged by how much more energy and enthusiasm today’s FBI places on partnerships with other law enforcement agencies both here and abroad, and in particular with the business and academic communities,” he said.

Not only has more of everyday life gone online, the threats and hackers hunting for personal information and proprietary data has diversified, he said.

“Our shared goal is to ensure safety, security and confidence in our increasingly connected world,” he said. “To understand the FBI’s role in that cyber ecosystem, you have to always keep partnership at the center of your mind.”

Since so many attacks come from abroad, FBI coordination with international partners can enable the agency to take down an entire cyberattack enterprise, rather than just one actor or person, he explained. One alarming aspect of the threat is that an attack on one place or company can result in millions of people’s information being compromised.

“We’re all for strong encryption. And contrary to what you might hear, we are not advocating for back doors. We’ve been asking for providers to make sure that they themselves maintain some kind of access to the data we need so that they can still provide it in response to a court order,” he said.

“And when they can’t, they’re often blinding us to vital evidence showing who’s behind the intrusion, or what they’re going to do next. Thankfully, we don’t face this wide array of threats alone. Far from it.”

He described the FBI, associated agencies, foreign and domestic partners both in the private and public sector like a tapestry, with each thread interweaving and growing to create an unbreakable fabric. It’s an analogy he admitted he borrowed from cyber division head Matt Gorham, who also describes the work as “the ultimate team sport.”

“We’re taking an enterprise approach. We don’t want to just keep individual cybercriminals at bay, we want to burn down their infrastructure. Instead of whack-a-mole, think of it more like one of my favorite movies: ‘Caddyshack,’” he said.

“I know I’m dating myself a little bit but just to be clear, we’re not going after cybercriminals with classic explosives. But we are working to get to the root of the operation to take down their ability to act. And that requires creative thinking.”

Wray also stressed that we are past the point where attacks and threats can be dealt with one by one, and that using every asset to their full extent is extremely important.

“We don’t always get there as quickly as we’d like. The flood of cyber intrusions and attacks is unrelenting,” he said. “But we’re doing everything possible to get timely, actionable, relevant information to you as fast as we can.”

Woods College of Advancing Studies Dean Karen Muncaster announced before the keynote address at the conference Wednesday that the cyber security master’s program at BC would be completely online starting in the fall. She explained that this would allow a wider of people the opportunity to study in this growing field.

“The collaboration and cooperation we’re seeing in this conference is what’s needed to ensure cybersecurity across all of our industries, so I think you will hear today the theme of collaboration over and over again,” she said.

Lillian Eden writes for the Gazette from the Boston University State House Program.




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