March 30, 2012

The Cyber Threat

Part 2: Shawn Henry on Partnerships, Challenges

Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry

Note: Shawn Henry retired from the FBI on March 31, 2012.

Part 2 of an interview with Shawn Henry, executive assistant director of the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch.

Q: Why are partnerships so important?

Mr. Henry: The threat we face is not solely within the FBI’s area of responsibility. So we work very closely with other law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community domestically. We share tactics and intelligence. We also partner with the private sector, because they often are the victims and see attacks before anybody else. The final piece—and one of the most significant—is international law enforcement partnerships. The ability to reach across the ocean once we identify criminals and put our hands on them is something that is relatively new. For many years, the adversaries believed they were immune to prosecution because they were thousands of miles away. That’s not the case anymore. Through our partnerships, we have arrested hundreds of bad actors who targeted U.S. and foreign infrastructure and institutions. Just in the last two years we have worked with dozens of countries, and we have actually stationed FBI agents overseas into the police agencies in countries including Ukraine, Romania, The Netherlands, and Estonia.

Q: So the cyber threat is truly global in scope?

Mr. Henry: Absolutely. In the physical world when somebody robs a bank, the pool of suspects is limited to the number of people in the general vicinity of that bank. When a bank is robbed virtually, even though it is very real for the victims—the money is actually gone—the pool of suspects is limited to the number of people on the face of the earth that have a laptop and an Internet connection, because anybody with an Internet connection can potentially attack any other computer that is tied to the network. You don’t have to be a computer scientist to launch these types of attacks.

Q: Going forward, what are the challenges regarding the cyber threat?

Mr. Henry: What I call the expansion of the network is going to create challenges. As technology increases, the threat becomes greater. All our wireless networks and smart devices are network-based, and anything touching the network is potentially susceptible. As more and more information transitions across the network, more adversaries will move to get their hands on it, because that information is extraordinarily valuable.

Q: You have responsibilities beyond the cyber area. What are some of the challenges you see with other criminal matters?

Mr. Henry: As an organization, fighting terrorism is rightfully the FBI’s number one priority, but criminal threats are substantial. There is white-collar crime, where we’ve seen people lose their entire life savings because of criminals taking advantage of them. There’s something very rewarding about seeing our agents and analysts aggressively working to take those criminals off the streets. We’ve seen public corruption cases where people have abused their position for personal gain. I see those types of cases continuing. There’s a percentage of people in society that are always going to be bad actors.

Q: What are you going to miss when you leave the Bureau?

Mr. Henry: The people and the mission. There is nothing else I wanted to do more in my professional life than to be an FBI agent. The quality and caliber of the people I have worked with are second to none. Working day to day to carry out our mission to help protect the country is an experience that can never be replaced. I leave with a tremendous sense of pride.

- The Cyber Threat, Part 1
- FBI Cyber Division
- More Cyber Crimes Stories