National Cyber Security Awareness Month
FBI Deploys Cyber Experts to Work Directly with Foreign Partners
Last month, FBI Director James Comey told a congressional committee that “the pervasiveness of the cyber threat is such that the FBI and other intelligence, military, homeland security, and law enforcement agencies across the government view cyber security and cyber attacks as a top priority.”
Operationally, the Bureau is responding to this global threat in a variety of ways—including through our Cyber Threat Team model, the FBI-led National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, our Cyber Action Team, and regional cyber task forces in all 56 field offices.
Another way we’re working to combat the cyber threat is by placing Bureau cyber experts in FBI legal attaché (legat) offices in strategic locations around the globe—a critical step because cyber threat actors can and do operate virtually anywhere in the world, crossing national and international borders with a few strokes of a keyboard to reach their victims.
Our experts are called cyber assistant legal attachés, or ALATs, and they work on a daily basis with law enforcement in host countries, sharing information, cooperating on investigations, and enhancing our relationships overall. Sometimes, they even work in the same physical space alongside their foreign counterparts.
The cyber ALAT program began in 2011, when several FBI Cyber Division personnel were deployed to a handful of legat offices to address significant cyber threats in those regions impacting U.S. interests and FBI investigations.
Five years later, there are eight permanent cyber ALAT positions—two in London and one each Bucharest, Romania; Canberra, Australia; The Hague, Netherlands; Tallinn, Estonia; Kyiv, Ukraine; and Ottawa, Canada. And currently, the Bureau maintains nearly a dozen temporary duty (TDY) cyber ALAT positions—their locations determined by the cyber threat environment and the host nation’s capabilities in working with the FBI in identifying, disrupting, and dismantling cyber threat actors and organizations.
Observed each October, National Cyber Security Awareness Month is the perfect time of year for individuals, businesses, and other organizations to reflect on the universe of cyber threats and to do their part to protect their networks, their devices, and their data from those threats.
The work of cyber ALATs provides a number of benefits for the Bureau, including improved working relationships with our partners to further FBI investigations and initiatives; assistance with the differences in countries’ jurisdictional issues, cyber laws, and legal processes; and a fuller picture of particular cyber threats.
The host nation also benefits from the presence of a cyber ALAT in the way of technical assistance offered in support of cyber investigations as well as information-sharing efforts that often eliminate the duplication of resources expended to investigate the same threat actor groups. Cyber ALATs can also facilitate requests from our foreign partners for cyber training.
Because of the nature of the work, cyber ALAT positions are highly competitive. Only those FBI agents with proven leadership skills, a wealth of task force and liaison experience, plenty of initiative, and top-notch computer intrusion knowledge are selected for the permanent and TDY jobs.
When all is said and done, what impact can cyber ALATs actually have on the overall cyber threat picture? “By building relationships, cyber ALATs can identify common threats and find unique opportunities to mitigate those threats with our international partners,” said one recent cyber ALAT. “Historically, law enforcement agencies ask each other to provide specific information to forward domestic investigations. But the global nature of cyber threats requires that the FBI and its foreign partners learn each other’s strengths, priorities, and gaps. Cyber ALATs create the bridge that allows the Bureau and its partners to address both individual cyber cases and global cyber threats with the most impact.”
Our cyber ALAT program is one more tool the FBI is using to protect the nation from sophisticated cyber threats coming from state-sponsored hackers, hackers for hire, organized cyber syndicates, and terrorists.