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FBI Director Comey, Assistant AG Caldwell Speak on Cyber Security

May 21, 2015 —

Attendees at the third annual Cybersecurity Law Institute, sponsored by Georgetown Law CLE on May 20 and 21, received insights and observations on cyber risk straight from the top. Day One featured FBI Director James B. Comey, who discussed the biggest threats facing the FBI in 2015, Bureau strategies for cyber security and the role of the private sector in addressing the problem.

In a conversation led by WilmerHale’s Ben Powell, Comey likened the threat posed by cyber to an “evil layer cake” — involving levels of actors including nation states, criminal and terrorist users of cyber, and “all manner of creeps, frauds … stalkers and pedophiles.” 

Strategies for addressing the problem? Focus resources on where they will have the greatest impact, and impose costs and consequences on the perpetrators. 

Comey briefly discussed the difficulties of dealing with threats that move “at the speed of light,” including accessing encrypted information and the expiration on June 1 of Section 215 of the Patriot Act (containing critical tools for the FBI).  And like others at the conference, he urged public and private sector cooperation in addressing the cyber threat. 

Cooperating early and investing in cyber security is in a company’s best interests, he said. As for the Bureau, “We are trying to approach all of cyber with an attitude of humility, that we stand in the middle of the greatest change in human relations … ever. We are trying to understand that we may not have it right. Let’s try this, get feedback and then, iterate.” 

Don’t hack back

As Assistant Dean Larry Center and Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor noted, the powerhouse conference — attended by 300 people from eight countries — then progressed from the sitting director of the FBI to the assistant attorney general of the criminal division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Echoing the need for the DOJ to work closely together with the private sector as well as agency and international counterparts, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell gave an update on the Department’s successes — including the newly created Cyber Unit, announced at Georgetown Law on December 4. 

Caldwell also gave some practical cyber guidance to corporate participants: have the right response plan and the right people in place; develop relationships with law enforcement; and if attacked, don’t hack back.

“Everyone in this room … feels the threat. We feel it breathing down our necks. We feel the sense of urgency, we want all of you to have that same sense of urgency,” she said. “The status quo is not good enough.”

For more on the conference, which was covered by C-SPAN, click here. A webcast is available here.

For related stories, see "New Cybercrime Unit Announced at Conference"; "Fighting Cyber Threats: International Conference Provides Timely Forum"; and "FBI Head Decries Racial Bias, Encourages Understanding."

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