FBI agent: Cybercrime among greatest threats to US
MILWAUKEE – Protecting computer networks and the information stored on them is likely to emerge as the nation’s top security priority in coming years, the agent leading FBI efforts to fight cybercrime said Wednesday in an address to law enforcement, military and business leaders.
Threats include organized crime, terrorists and activist groups like Anonymous, a loose coalition of hackers that has defaced websites and disseminated private information in an effort to create social change, said Ronald Yearwood, who oversees the FBI’s cyber division.
“This problem is pervasive, it is advancing, the adversaries are innovative,” said Yearwood, who was among the speakers at Wisconsin’s second annual cyber security conference in Milwaukee. To counter the threat, the government, companies and private groups must work together, he said.
Gov. Scott Walker opened the conference, noting that 95 percent of the 6 million emails coming into state computer servers each day are blocked because they are either malicious or spam. He said the state is a clear target for hackers, but other targets, such as pharmacies, are less obvious. The governor noted his own allergies as he talked about the risks to people who are severely allergic if they can’t get needed medication because their health records aren’t available.
“If people want to do us harm, one of the most effective ways, when you talk about terrorism … you don’t have to physically take down a building,” Walker continued. “If you can take down a financial network for an extended period of time, that can cause the same level of terror.”
Walker recalled the chaos in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, taking out cellphone and other communications systems. He said the government and private companies need to work to protect infrastructure, such as cell towers and power grids.
“There’s just tremendous opportunities for mischief,” Walker said.
Security experts speaking at the conference said even they had had problems with hacking and identity theft. Deputy Adj. Gen. John McCoy, of the Wisconsin National Guard, said he had three credit card numbers in six months as his bank responded to data breaches. William Pelgrin, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Internet Security, a nonprofit that helps investigate hacks, said someone impersonated him, filing for a tax refund in his name.
Pelgrin warned attendees that they need to pay attention to laptops that employees take home and to the increasingly common practice of people networking their home and work computers. Many breaches start at home, he said.
“Once they are in, they move very quickly laterally,” Pelgrin said, adding, “They will take truckloads of data from you.”