By Nick Heath
15 April 2008
Q&A: Scott O'Neal, computer intrusion head, FBI cyber division
Scott O'Neal oversees the FBI's response to computer hacking and botnet
attacks by criminals, terrorists and foreign powers.
The cyber division is one of the faster growing operational departments
within the FBI. The growth of international cyber crime and terrorism
over the past five years has spurred the FBI to establish dedicated
cyber squads at each of its 56 field offices across the US and support
70 cyber task forces nationwide, backed up by global intelligence
gathering by its Internet Crime Complaint Centre.
O'Neal works at the cyber division headquarters at the FBI main office
in Washington. The division tackles computer intrusion and cyber crime.
Computer intrusion mainly focuses on criminal hacking and distributed
denial of service attacks but also deals with terrorist and
state-sponsored threats. The cyber crime department's main priority is
tackling child pornography but it also combats online fraud, such as
phishing, and property rights investigations.
Here, O'Neal talks exclusively to silicon.com:
On the explosive growth of the FBI's cyber division
O'Neal: We are relatively new, we have been around only about five years
and are the smallest but also probably the fastest-growing among the
operational divisions. That of course is related to the nature of the
cyber threat, the volume and the intensity is relatively new to us and
everybody else. Four to five years ago there were several offices that
may have had one or two agents tied to a white collar crime squad
working cyber crime, now every field office has at least one dedicated
Social networking sites as infection hotbeds
The social websites are the big target now - MySpace, Facebook...People
are less careful and more likely to click on a link or download
something. They are open and people can put links or trade files with
somebody. I refer to the latest threat report from Symantec, they are
seeing a shift away from hacking individual computers to web-based
How home users are fuelling the botnet networks
We think that this is one area where a lot can be done, individual users
could do more to educate themselves on security and that would have an
impact on the overall cyber threat. People are not doing the basics,
using antivirus software, downloading patches, using firewalls, using
passwords that are not easy to guess, being careful where they surf and
what they click on and opening email with attachments coming from
Biggest threat facing computer users?
It will be botnets. They can be used for a wide variety of activities
and also up near the top will be phishing. By volume and the economic
impact they are right up there.
Cyber crime supermarkets
The marketing of cyber crime in general and botnets in particular is a
growing threat. We are concerned we do see that because botnets are by
nature a force multiplier. It's throwing it open to more people.
Terrorists on the web
We do know that terrorist organisations and jihadi groups use the
internet for many purposes - communications recruiting, propaganda,
intrusions and for internet fraud.
Cost of cyber crime
It ranges widely from 200bn down to 10-20bn. A lot of it doesn't get
reported and there's different kinds of losses. There's the loss of
dollars where an account has money stolen from it and then there's cost
to a business where it has to fix damage to a network and damage to
reputation in some circumstances.
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