FBI Director Christopher Wray: ‘Today’s cybersecurity threat is bigger than government itself’


SAN FRANCISCO — Christopher Wray, the director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, struck a cautious tone on Tuesday morning here at RSA 2019 and he called for more cooperation to tackle the cybersecurity problem.

“Today’s cyberthreat is bigger than any one government agency — in fact it’s bigger than the government itself,” Wray said. “The scope, breadth, depth, sophistication and diversity of the threat we face now is unlike anything we’ve had in our lifetimes.”

Wray pointed to multinationals, criminal organizations, hacktavists, insider threats, China and North Korea all as among the most pressing issues as well as the blended threat of foreign intelligence units enlisting the help of hackers.

He said that cyber, perhaps more than any other area, is where public-private cooperation is needed for everyone’s sake.

“The key is having the private sector start to form relationships with field offices because it’s not just prevention but in many cases it’s mitigation and that’s where speed really matters,” Wray explained. Having an existing relationship, in turn, will help with that speed.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Susan Hennessey pressed Wray on the thorny issue of cooperating with the FBI in the wake of its incident with Apple. After Apple refused to grant the FBI access to San Bernandino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone in 2015 and the Bureau reportedly worked with a third-party to crack the phone anyway — a move that experts said demonstrated that even encrypted data is not entirely safe from nefarious actors.

“We are not trying to weaken encryption or find back doors. This is an issue getting worse and worse all the time,” Wray said. “It can’t be a sustainable end state that there is a space beyond our access for criminals to hide. I would love to see people come together and try to work toward solutions.”

The threats are not going to get easier or more simplistic.

Cisco Talos VP Matt Watchinski, for instance, said that as our world continues changing, technologies being invented today, including critical infrastructure, will challenge security professionals to keep getting better at what they do.

“At the end of the day,” FBI’s Wray said, “we need each other in a way that is becoming more and more apparent every day.”

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