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FBI boss warns online threats will outpace terrorism

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RSA 2012 The head of the FBI warns that the threat to the US from online attacks will shortly become greater than that posed by terrorists.

"In the not too distant future we anticipate that the cyber threat will pose the number one threat to our country," the FBI's director Robert Mueller told delegates at the RSA 2012 conference in San Francisco. "We need to take lessons learned from terrorism and apply them to cybercrime."

He quoted the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger, who said that the more connected a society becomes – in Seneca's day it was the spread of roads – then the more likely it is that an individual would become a slave to that connectivity.

The same is true of modern society, Mueller said. If the electronic systems on which society relies are removed, the result would be chaos and anarchy, he suggested. Interestingly, this goes against the advice of security guru Bruce Schneier, who pointed out that the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, and if his phone doesn't work he'd be annoyed, but hardly terrified.

As a society we can't turn back the clock, Mueller said, nor should we try to. Instead, we need to share information and tactics to beat any enemies in the future. To that end, the FBI will make changes to its own force, and push for more changes to business practices from government.

All FBI special agents are now being trained in electronic methods, he said, and those who specialize in the area will get the best possible training. The agency is setting up virtual meeting rooms in which investigators can compare notes and follow up on cases.

In addition, Mueller wants a national breach law, so that when a serious hack takes place, the company hit has a responsibility to let law enforcement know. Currently, 47 states have breach laws of some sort, but the FBI wants this to be standardized across the country. Companies need to share their data on attacks and devise strategy together with law enforcement. ®

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