Hackers have powers beyond most countries, expert says

A top Secret Service cybersecurity expert says many of the perpetrators of cyberattacks have capabilities that go beyond most countries.

“Many of the actors that we look at on a daily and weekly basis have capabilities that actually exceed the capabilities of most nation-states,” said Ari Baranoff, an assistant special agent with the Secret Service's criminal investigation division.

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Baranoff, speaking at a Washington forum for business leaders on Monday, said that the “best way to combat” cyberattacks is through information sharing.

His point was echoed by Sean Farrell, general counsel of the FBI's Cyber Task Force, who urged business leaders to voluntarily share information with the feds if they think they're under attack.

“Have an understanding of what information you can share legally,” Farrell said at the forum, hosted by the Financial Services Roundtable. “Have an understanding of what you share voluntarily.”

Businesses have been reluctant to provide information to the feds, fearing that the information might be used in court to blame them for the breach in the first place.

Farrell noted that some businesses that have been breached will share information with one federal agency and request that information not be shared with another agency.

He said that was unhelpful, and argued that government needs “to be able to share information with the folks” who can help, he said.

Attention to cybersecurity has stepped up in the wake of massive data breaches at Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase and others that have exposed millions of people’s personal and financial information and raised new concerns about the security of their data.

On Friday, President Obama called for Congress to pass data breach notification legislation.

Republicans and Democrats have long called for Congress to pass information sharing legislation, though they've differed on the best approach.

Republicans advocate for legislation that enables businesses to keep up with emerging technologies, while Democrats take a more restrictive approach they say will help better protect consumers.