FBI Director Mueller Boasts of FBI’s Cyber Expertise before Anonymous Hacks Cyber Call

As you may have heard, Anonymous hacked into and released a conference call between the FBI and Scotland Yard discussing their efforts to crack down on the hackers’ group.

What makes the hack all the more ironic is its release comes just days after Robert Mueller bragged of the FBI’s cyber expertise at the Threat Assessment hearing on Tuesday (the actual call took place on January 17, which makes me wonder whether they have gotten subsequent calls as well). In response to MD (and therefore NSA’s) Senator Barbara Mikulski’s suggestion that the NSA was the only entity able to investigate cybercrime, Mueller insisted (after 2:01) the FBI can match the expertise of NSA. He even bragged about how important partnering with counterparts in other countries–like Scotland Yard–was to the FBI’s expertise.

Mueller: If I may interject, we have built up a substantial bit of expertise in this arena over a period of time, not only domestically but internationally. We have agents that are positioned overseas to work closely with–embedded with–our counterparts in a number of countries, and so we have, over a period of time, built up an expertise. That is not to say that NSA doesn’t have a substantial bit of expertise also, understanding where it’s located.

Mikulski: But it’s a different kind.

Mueller: Well, no, much of it is the same kind, much of it is the same kind, in terms of power, I think NSA has more power, in the sense of capabilities, but in terms of expertise, I would not sell ourselves short.

I don’t want to sell the FBI short or anything. But regardless of their expertise in investigating cybercrimes, it sure seems like they’ve got the same crappy security the rest of the Federal government has.

13 replies
  1. hkjl; says:

    Don’t be on the FBI’s side when Anonymous can get any of your data.

    FBI can’t protect its citizens – at the same time as the FBI is pulling illegal, dirty tricks.

    Be safe. Side with Anonymous.

  2. Arbusto says:

    The FBI has no way to go but up. If memory serves, only a few years ago, those Agents lucky enough to have desktop computers were running 286 cpu’s. If the FBI drastically upgraded its cyber capability, I suspect it’s through Contractors, not Agents, since the hiring for the FBI is a long process. And how much duplication for cyber crime or “terrorists” are the FBI competing with the NSA, CIA, DIA and State.

  3. emptywheel says:

    @Arbusto: Yup, when I live-tweeted this, I celebrated that this means Agents actually have computers.

    Apparently, they’re still working on the password part.

  4. kgb999 says:

    Just pondering. On the one hand, the government has done some laughably insecure things; and historically, hackers have been known to hack the investigators looking for them more vigorously than most other targets. On the other hand, this is pretty convenient timing to help the NSA and really hurt the FBI – and the NSA has pretty intense capabilities. Anonymous is a vehicle, not an organization … could be anyone for any reason.

    Not much functional detail yet on the exploits. The FBI isn’t the only one curious how this is being done (or the level of data exposure). I’ll be interested to see if any better explanation starts to emerge.

    Discounting wild conspiracy theories, Anon must be revealing a bit of their hand to try and impact the court proceedings in the UK. I’ll bet the lawyers for Ryan Cleary and Jake Davis are interested to find out about those secret motions (and I’ll bet the judge is interested as well – unless the UK courts now help slow down proceedings to assist the FBI “non-suspiciously” …. which seems unlikely). The release also gave a heads up to the other two Anons who are apparently being used as pawns at this point … although there seem to be better ways to pull that alert off without revealing a hack.

    Wonder what it is the FBI is trying to pull off over the next six weeks? Maybe that they just managed to set-up the anons who released this conference call? Will be interesting to see what happens.

  5. anon says:

    What was interesting in this call? Perhaps their intrusion was discovered prematurely? Usually “Anonymous” (that is, whosoever acts under the title) waits until they have something significant to reveal before revealing their penetration.

    This was enormously boring and uninformative.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @anon: Agree.

    That said, the call was over two weeks ago, and the calls are weekly. If I got a much more informative one, I might release this and leave FBI wondering if they got the interim calls.

  7. anon says:

    According to the WSJ, the FBI says that an agent who was invited to the conference call forwarded the invitation to his personal email account, an account which had already been compromised.

    Some readers are commenting on that WSJ article, interpreting the story to mean that the thing was prerecorded, and the only thing that “Anonymous” got was a pre-recorded meeting, but I don’t think there’s any reason to draw that conclusion.

  8. PeasantParty says:

    If the FBI is so damned good at everything why is they don’t know what the hell is going on in the Capitol Building? How come they don’t know they have been lied to by rogue political heads?

  9. joanneleon says:

    I wondered why they released this now also. I don’t know how much strategizing goes on in Anon, or how well they are geared toward longer term projects (versus their shorter term ops). It kind of looks like it was released as a trophy.

  10. lefty665 says:

    Long ago, in what sometimes seems like a nation far away, the witting folks I knew were of the opinion that there wasn’t much of anyone over at the FBI who could even find the bathroom without a paid informant.

    They also believed the national technical means they crafted to help keep us safe from external threats enabled totalitarianism if turned inward. They swore that would not happen as long as they were alive. It was their first commandment.

    The FBI exploit gives them something to laugh about as they spin in their graves, and anon was just the way they liked it. Some things have not changed.

  11. Rich in Fla says:

    @ Anon 5:46

    The NY Times also reported the FBI version this morning, saying it wans’t so much hacking into the FBI as the private email of a European law enforcement participant (one of several). That recipient of the conference call data (date/time/pass-code) forwarded it to a personal, non-secure email account which was vulnerable. Based on that I think the hackers simply tuned in as if they were participants and simply recorded it.

  12. mzchief says:

    From “How did Anonymous hack the FBI?” (NewStatesman.Com, by Ryan Gallagher, Feb. 5, 2012) and my bold:

    The call in question, which lasts around 16 minutes, is one of the boldest leaks ever produced by the hackers, and it may also be one of the most revelatory. A fascinating glimpse into a highly classified world, it shows the extent to which the Metropolitan police is willing to collaborate with its foreign counterparts as part of cyber-crime investigations, even if doing so means interfering with the British judicial process. At one point during the call, for instance, one of the Scotland Yard detectives tells his FBI colleagues that they secretly delayed an ongoing court case involving two UK-based suspected hackers – Jake Davis and Ryan Cleary – at America’s behest.

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