The director of the FBI used his keynote address at the RSA 2010 conference to appeal for greater co-operation between law enforcement and the private sector to tackle online crime.
Robert Mueller told delegates that the need for co-operation had never been stronger, as online fraud rises to huge levels and the next generation of terrorists move online in unprecedented numbers.
"Osama Bin Laden long ago identified cyber space as a means to damage our economy and psyche, and countless extremists have taken this to heart," he said.
"Terrorists have shown a clear interest in pursuing hacking skills. And they will train their own recruits or hire outsiders with an eye to combining physical attacks with cyber attacks."
The attacks on Georgia and Estonia showed that these tactics are already in play, Mueller said, adding that businesses and law enforcement must come together to crack down on online criminals, be they terrorists or thieves.
The FBI has over 1,000 trained computer specialists in its 56 field offices in the US but, while they are skilled in analysis and digital forensics, the agency also needs the help of businesses in beating online crime.
Mueller promised that the FBI will do everything it can to minimise the effect of a criminal investigation so that companies can feel confident that, in the event of an attack, any investigation will help rather than hinder.
"We do not want you to feel victimised a second time by an investigation," he said. "We know that putting on raid jackets, courting the media and shutting down your systems is not the best way to get the job done."
The FBI will preserve confidentiality, even to the extent of getting protective orders to preserve trade secrets and intellectual property.
But Mueller stressed that the agency is unable act if it is not informed of a cyber crime, and that the industry must stand together with law enforcement.
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