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Why the FBI is so far behind on cybercrime

The bureau’s outmoded approach is one of the most important factors behind the stunning rise of computer crime

Renee Dudley and Dan Golden
Published Mon, Nov 7, 2022 · 06:23 PM

THERE are many factors behind the stunning rise of ransomware. Our reporting found that one of the most important is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) outmoded approach to computer crime targeting people and institutions in the United States.

State and local police generally cannot handle a sophisticated international crime that locks victims’ data remotely – from patients’ medical histories and corporate trade secrets to police evidence and students’ performance records – and demands payment for a key. Many police departments have themselves been hamstrung by ransomware attacks. Federal investigators, especially the FBI, are responsible for containing the threat. They need to do better.

When ransomware gained traction a decade ago, individual attackers were hitting up home users for a few hundred dollars. In 2015, as the crime was evolving into something more, the bureau still dismissed ransomware as an “ankle biter”. That year, about a dozen frustrated Cyber Division agents warned James Comey, who was then the director of the FBI, that institutional lack of respect for their skills was spurring their departures. Now well-organised gangs, with hierarchies mirroring those of traditional businesses, are paralysing the computer networks of high-profile targets and demanding millions of dollars in ransom.

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