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China has 50 hackers for every FBI cyber agent, says Bureau boss

Combatting it is going to take more money. Lots of more money.

China has 50 hackers for every one of the FBI's cyber-centric agents, the Bureau's director told a congressional committee last week.

Speaking at the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, director Christopher Wray tried to justify the Bureau's budget request by outlining the threats it is trying to counter.

"A key part of the Chinese government's multi-pronged strategy to lie, to cheat, and to steal their way to surpassing us as the global superpower is cyber," Wray claimed. "The scale of the Chinese cyber threat is unparalleled. They've got a bigger hacking program than every other major nation combined and have stolen more of our personal and corporate data than all other nations big or small combined."

"To give you a sense of what we're up against: If each one of the FBI's cyber agents and intel analysts focused exclusively on the China threat – on nothing but China – Chinese hackers would still outnumber FBI cyber personnel by at least 50 to 1."

Wray said the Bureau is also investigating "over a hundred different ransomware variants – each variant with scores of victims – as well as a host of other novel threats posed by both cyber criminals and nation-state actors."

The latter include Iran and North Korea. Wray said those nations' efforts mean "it is getting more and more challenging to discern where the nation-state threat ends, and the cyber criminal threat begins.”

Among the attacks the FBI has seen those groups undertake were efforts against "the critical infrastructure and services that ordinary Americans rely on every day. I'm talking about places like hospitals, schools, 911 call centers."

"The FBI's got investigations into destructive attacks like these all over the country in communities large and small. Which is why in this year's budget request you'll see our need for 192 more cyber positions and a little over $63 million."

Wray pledged to put that cash "towards ensuring the FBI remains the world's premier cyber investigative agency by taking the fight to our adversaries through joint sequenced operations and rapid information sharing with the private sector."

He added that the Bureau hopes to build "model cyber squads, each tackling multiple threats in more field offices – placing investigators, analysts and other key professionals close to the victims that need us and by providing our workforce with critical cutting-edge training."

"Our opponents in this space are relentless and we need your help to ensure that we've got the resources to keep responding in kind."

More cash will also help the FBI to defend itself. Wray said the Bureau blocks over 15 million unauthorized connection attempts each week.

Wray added that requests for increased infosec resources will help the FBI target online marketplaces for illegal drugs – another of the Bureau's focuses.

The director was also asked about Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the FBI to conduct warrantless surveillance. He said the controversial section is an essential tool for the FBI's efforts to counteract Chinese cyber attacks and has helped to combat ransomware attacks. He added that the Bureau is taking significant steps to ensure it complies with regulations governing the use of Section 702. ®

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