FBI Offers Cybercrime Counseling to Companies

By Che Odom  

May 28 — Although companies may worry that calling the Federal Bureau of Investigation will expose them to unwanted government scrutiny, the FBI wants the private sector to turn to it for help preventing cybercrime, panelists said at a recent conference.

The bureau's expertise in cybersecurity and intelligence is a resource corporations might use to make their computer systems safer, Jay Kramer, an attorney with the FBI, said at a May 21 Cybersecurity Law Institute conference at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Coordination with the FBI can help corporate counsel think about and prepare for legal risks associated with cyberattacks, he said. “It certainly helps us knowing you guys a little bit better, and we hope that it would help you.”

FBI Offers Briefings

The FBI has been engaged in an outreach effort in which it provides certain corporations with threat briefings and tools to help them repel intruders.

According to Kramer, companies who turn to the FBI ahead of trouble are going to receive “coordination” and valuable intelligence.

“As we have seen over and over, especially in recent years, when there is a significant cyberevent, intrusion or otherwise, there are a number of thorny legal issues that come up that your companies are going to have to deal with,” Kramer said.

“We really are not interested in your client information or intellectual property,” he said. “As people who are used to working with sensitive information, we know how to safeguard such important information.”

FBI Will Work With Companies

Leslie T. Thornton, vice president and general counsel of Washington Gas Light Co., said she has had experience working with government agencies, including the FBI.

The FBI and other government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, will work with companies to “mitigate whatever happened” and “help make sure your system is more secure than what it was before” an intrusion, she said.

“They will stay with you forever, if you want them,” she said, adding that her company benefits greatly from an ongoing relationship with the government.

Consent Agreements

Companies may be wary of calling the FBI for mere preventative measures, assuming the law-enforcement agency could look in places not welcome, William J. Haynes II, executive vice president and general counsel of SIGA Technologies Inc., said.

That's where consent agreements come in, he said.

Thornton said the general counsel must create consent agreements, defining any limits authorities must follow when entering the company's system.

“You can allow them into some parts of your system and not others,” she said. “They really don't want customer data.”

The process of creating the agreements can be made complicated when people are worrying as a result of an attack, which is a reason for asking for FBI help before an incident occurs, Thornton said.

Organizations' Defenses Lacking

Meanwhile, a cybercrime survey report released May 28 by PricewaterhouseCoopers US found that although companies are facing increased cybercrime incidents and monetary losses, they aren't raising their defensive capabilities to match those of their adversaries.

“According to the report, only 38 percent of companies have a methodology to prioritize security investments based on risk and impact to business strategy,” PwC said in a May 28 statement.

More than 500 executives, security experts and representatives of the private and public sectors provided responses to the survey.

The average number of security incidents detected during the past year was 135 incidents per organization, PwC said. According to the report, 14 percent of respondents indicated that monetary losses related to cybercrime increased in 2013.

“The actual costs, however, remain largely unknown as more than two-thirds (67 percent) of those who detected a security incident were not able to estimate the financial costs,” the statement said. “Among those that could, the average annual monetary loss was projected to be $415,000.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Che Odom in Washington at codom@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jesse Travis at jtravis@bna.com