FBI director says Pittsburgh-based cybercrime busts send key message
January 14, 2016 1:15 AM
FBI Director James Comey speaks to the media during a news conference Wednesday at the Pittsburgh FBI field office in the South Side.
By Rich Lord / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh-based cybercrime busts have created as many fugitives as prisoners, but even where they have not brought arrests the charges have pinged the bad guys, FBI Director James B. Comey said at a South Side news conference Wednesday.
“We’re trying to send messages of deterrence to state actors and criminal actors, that cybercrime is not a freebie,” said Mr. Comey, who has led the FBI since September 2013, and who spoke at the Dixon Federal Building.
This year has already seen new data breaches. Last week, Time Warner Cable confirmed the apparent loss of 320,000 passwords and email addresses of customers.
FBI Director James B. Comey on cyber crime
FBI Director James B. Comey visited the FBI field office on the South Side and talked about the office's work in fighting cyber crime. (Video by Andrew Rush; 1/13/2016)
Pittsburgh’s FBI branch has been one of a handful of global centers of cybercrime fighting, but some of those indicted are fugitives in Russia, China, or at large.
“My personal opinion is that it [indictment without arrest] is not a good strategy,” said David Locke Hall, a former federal prosecutor from Delaware and author of the recent book “Crack99: The Takedown of a $100 Million Chinese Software Pirate.” “You have to arrest someone.”
Next week at the U.S. Courthouse, Downtown, District Judge Maurice B. Cohill is scheduled to sentence DeWayne Watts of Florida, the first such event stemming from the July takedown of the Darkode cybercrime marketplace.
Mr. Watts and co-defendants used servers in China to infect Internet-connected routers with spamming software that bombarded victims with emails and texts designed to lure them to nefarious websites. Other defendants in related cases are scheduled to be sentenced in coming weeks, and the local link, Morgan Culbertson of Churchill, faces judgment in April.
Their arrests were part of a 20-country effort to round up some 70 accused Darkode members.
“Just because you’re in your pajamas halfway around the world, or in a military uniform in China, that doesn’t mean it’s OK for you to steal that which matters most to Americans, especially our innovation,” Mr. Comey said. “We’re going to be halfway around the world with our partners in other agencies to slap handcuffs on you.”
However, some of the Darkode defendants, including alleged ringleaders Johan Anders Gudmunds of Sweden and Murtaza Saifuddin of Pakistan, are fugitives. So is Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev of Russia, charged in Pittsburgh with spreading malware that encrypted and ransomed the data of common computer users, and siphoning millions from bank accounts. Also charged locally but not arrested are five members of Unit 61398 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, accused of hacking secrets from U.S. Steel and other companies.
Mr. Hall noted that it is hard to make an international bust but that arrest of key foreign actors has to be a priority.
“If not, then what you’re left with is low-hanging fruit,” he said. “My view is, no risk it, no biscuit.”
Mr. Comey said that Pittsburgh is “the point of the spear” on improving cooperation with businesses, academia and international law enforcement on cybercrime. “I think we have made substantial progress on all of those fronts,” he said.
He countered criticisms that he wants a “back door” into encrypted online communication.
“I do not want a back door,” he said. “I love encryption. Encryption is great,” when it thwarts hackers.
Mr. Comey added that sometimes there is “a collision between our love of encryption and our love of public safety.” Internet companies that support end-to-end encryption, and don’t retain their clients’ messages at all, can’t comply with judges’ warrants and orders for evidence, he said.
The so-called Islamic State “is crowd-sourcing terrorism,” trying to motivate “troubled souls” to commit violence, Mr. Comey said. Even though terror groups use social media, “the United States does not monitor the Internet or social media” domestically, in bulk, he said.
He said of the Jan. 7 shooting of Philadelphia police Officer Jesse Hartnett, in which reported Islamic State sympathizer Edward Archer, of Yeardon, is charged: “We are investigating that as a terrorist attack.”
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