Senators: Funding boost needed to help law enforcement take down hackers

Federal law enforcement agencies should have more funding to investigate and prosecute hackers, senators argued at a hearing on Wednesday.

"I am sympathetic that the Justice Department and the FBI lack adequate resources to respond to the severe cyberthreat. These are immensely complex and challenging cases to put together," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, which was holding the hearing. 

Whitehouse expressed dismay at the number of hackers who are stealing business secrets and committing financial fraud and the small number of prosecutions. He argued that there should be more officials and task forces devoted solely to cracking down on cybercrime.

"If this really is the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of humankind through illicit means, we're still pretty under-resourced for it," Whitehouse said. "We have a DEA just to deal with narcotics. We've got the ATF just for alcohol, firearms, tobacco and bombs."

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the subcommittee's ranking member, agreed that the federal government should devote more funding to combating cybercrime.

"The resources we have provided over time to deal with bank robberies, compare that to the resources we have provided over time to deal with cybertheft," Graham said.

Jenny Durkan, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, and Joseph Demarest, the assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division, said prosecuting cybercrimes is a top priority. 

"In order to counter the growing cyberthreats, we are focusing our resources, expanding our presence both at the local and national levels, and engaging in an unprecedented level of intergovernmental collaboration and cooperation with the private sector," Demarest said.

Kevin Mandia, the CEO of security firm Mandiant, argued that the most serious cyberattacks on U.S. businesses are coming from the Chinese military.

Stewart Baker, an attorney and former Homeland Security Department official, said it is "deeply unlikely" that tougher prosecution would do anything to deter government-sponsored cyberattacks. He urged lawmakers to focus on foreign policy tools, such as visa restrictions, to pressure China to stop hacking U.S. computer systems. 

He said that while the question of adequate funding is "profound," pouring more money into the Justice Department for cybercrime prosecution is a "dubious proposition."