Hard to deter hackers, experts tell lawmakers

Experts on the cybersecurity of the financial sector were not optimistic that law enforcement can effectively deter hackers with the threat of prosecution.

Members of a House subcommittee on financial services pressed a panel of witnesses Tuesday on whether the federal government is doing enough to highlight the consequences of hacking to potential cyber criminals.

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The problem, experts said, is that most cyber criminals are operating in safe havens where they are out of reach of agencies like the FBI.

“What worries me, and probably the whole panel, is that there are sanctuaries” where hackers can operate without disruption, said Jason Healy, senior research scholar with the Columbia University School of International and Policy Affairs.

“Someone is hitting you from China, you are probably never going to get them. Someone is hitting you from Russia, you are probably never going to get them.”

The hearing focused on how the financial sector battles cyber threats.

Rep. Denny HeckDennis (Denny) Lynn HeckExclusive: Guccifer 2.0 hacked memos expand on Pennsylvania House races Heck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE (D-Wash.) questioned whether the United States has a legal framework that is robust enough to punish cyber criminals.

“I’ve read maybe one, two instances of people going to jail over this stuff,” he said. “These [cyberattacks on critical infrastructure] have enormous costs. Do we have the legal framework … to hold them to a standard of accountability?”

Russell Fitzgibbons, executive vice president of The Clearing House, referred to a handful of recent indictments against cyber criminals but said apprehensions take place only rarely when the target individual is located outside the United States.

“We want to see more [action],” said Fitzgibbons. “We want to see more consequences, we want to see more prosecutions, we want to see more people being held accountable. [But the activity is] happening outside our borders and [arrests are] very hard to do.”

Heck was skeptical that putting pressure on foreign governments will ultimately deter hackers.

“Diplomatic pressure — how is that working out for us?” he said in a sarcastic moment.

“We’re trying to increase the cost on them … Year after year, [hackers] have been able to make gains over us, the defenders,” said Healy.

The hearing was held by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit.