Shawn Henry, assistant director of the FBI Cyber Division, said that efforts to cooperate with foreign law enforcement agencies have paid off in the fight against cybercriminals. Six years ago, for example, the FBI could not respond to an attack that was traced back to an individual outside of the U.S, Henry said. Today, FBI agents are working hand-in-hand with international law enforcement agents in Estonia, Romania and other countries to build cases against cybercriminals and make arrests.
“We are much more encouraged to be able to catch these folks,” said Howard Cox, assistant deputy chief, computer crime and intellectual property section of the U.S. Department of Justice. “In five years, significant changes have been made.”
But while the ability for federal law enforcement bodies to fight cybercrime is evolving, so are the threats. For the past four to five years, criminals from Eastern Europe have posed the biggest threat, but recently there has been an increase in the number of attacks emanating from Africa as connectivity to the internet in this part of the world has increased, Henry said.
Despite the challenges they face, officials were largely optimistic about their abilities to fight cybercrime. Federal law enforcement bodies have been able to get foreign cybercriminals extradited to the U.S. where first-time offenders have faced penalties upwards of seven to 15 years in prison, Cox said.
In addition to the importance of international collaboration, relationships with private-sector information security professionals are also “critical” to successfully fighting cybercrime, Henry said. Federal law enforcement bodies are most effective when they get involved in cybercrime investigations right after attacks are discovered, he added.
“We've had a number of successful prosecutions, but only because the company worked with us,” said Kimberly Kiefer Peretti, senior counsel, computer crime and intellectual property section of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Organizations that have been the victim of a cybercrime should involve federal law enforcement as early in the investigation process as possible for the best chance of successfully catching and prosecuting those behind the attack, Kiefer Peretti said.
“If you don't come to us, we can't do our job,” agreed Stuart Van Buren, special agent at the U.S. Secret Service.
Also, it is beneficial for private-sector information security professionals to establish relationships with cybercrime agents from the FBI or Secret Service field office in their area before an incident occurs, officials said.