FBI Director Robert Muller said Friday that cyber threats will one day pose a more significant danger to U.S. national security than terrorism, which is currently the FBI's top priority.
"In the not too distant future, we anticipate that the cyber threat will pose the No. 1 threat to our country," Muller told attendees at the RSA Computer Security Conference in San Francisco.
RSA conference attendees are often the first to see new threats coming down the road, and know what data is critically important and what could be at risk, Muller observed.
"Real-time information-sharing is essential [and] much information can -- and should be -- shared with the private sector," Muller said. "In turn, those of you in the private sector must have the means and the motivation to work with us."
Muller noted that the FBI's dual role in law enforcement and national security uniquely positions the bureau to collect the intelligence it needs to take down criminal networks, prosecute those responsible, and protect our national security. The problem is that Internet technology is evolving so rapidly that it is difficult for the FBI to keep up from a security perspective.
"We cannot confront cyber crime on our own," Muller said.
Reporting Security Breaches Is Crucial
The most dangerous cyber threats the FBI faces today are posed by the state-sponsored computer experts of hostile foreign nations seeking to steal corporate trade secrets and classified U.S. government documents ,as well as potentially wreak havoc on the nation's most vital infrastructure .
"State-sponsored hackers are patient and calculating, have the time, the money, and the resources to burrow in and to wait," Muller said. "They may come and go, conducting reconnaissance and exfiltrating bits of seemingly innocuous information -- information that in the aggregate may be of high value."
Though many companies may be reluctant to report security breaches, Muller encouraged corporations and other organizations to report cyber crimes to the FBI. In turn, the FBI pledges to launch an investigation that will include the requisite steps for minimizing disruption to businesses while safeguarding enterprise privacy.
"Where necessary, we will seek protective orders to preserve trade secrets and business confidentiality," Muller said. "And we will share with you what we can -- as quickly as we can -- about the means and the methods of attack."
Catching Threat Actors
Muller is convinced that there are only two types of companies -- those that have been hacked and those that will be. "And even they are converging into one category: companies that have been hacked and will be hacked again," he said.
According to Muller, attribution is absolutely critical to deter future attacks. "We cannot just minimize vulnerabilities and deal with the consequences," Muller explained. "Collectively, we can improve cyber security and lower costs -- with systems designed to catch threat actors rather than to [merely] withstand them."
Corporations hit by security breaches gain access to vast resources when they work closely with the FBI to identify the perpetrators as well as the security holes exploited by hackers. For example, the bureau has 63 offices that cover the globe as well as agents embedded in the police departments of specific countries that are hacking hot spots, such as Romania, Estonia, Ukraine and the Netherlands.
Within the borders of the United States, the FBI is working closely with other law enforcement and governmental agencies at the local, state and national levels, including the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the CIA and the Secret Service. Additionally, the FBI has formed an information-sharing partnership with the private sector called InfraGard.
"We must use our connectivity to stop those who seek to do us harm," Muller said.