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Feds bulk up to fight cybercrime

By Lisa M. Bowman, ZDNet News

On a day that the White House's Web site came under attack, U.S. Attorney General John 
Ashcroft announces a new initiative that includes added personnel to fight hackers and 

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said federal officials would crack down on an 
increasing wave of cybercrime by beefing up 10 specialized units so they can better 
concentrate on catching hackers and pirates.

The squads, dubbed Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property, or CHIP, units will 
focus on copyright theft, computer fraud and hacking.

Ashcroft, speaking after meeting with Silicon Valley CEOs at VeriSign offices in 
Mountain View, Calif., said he wants to send a message to cybercriminals that they're 
not immune to prosecution.

"There's this idea somehow that you can get away with it here," he said. "That's an 
idea we must curtail. There are no free passes in cyberspace."

Ashcroft said the attack on Whitehouse.gov this week--along with viruses such as 
Melissa and I Love You--are further evidence that the government must work harder to 
catch cybercriminals.

However, Ashcroft also said that technology companies must do their part. He 
criticized tech firms for failing to turn to law enforcement when their networks are 
compromised. After all, he said, banks call the cops when there's a robbery in their 
branch. Ashcroft said companies that don't contact the FBI--because they're afraid of 
the hit to their reputations or bottom line--are aiding criminals. "These fears, while 
understandable, are self-defeating," he said. "A company that does not report crime 
leaves the criminal free to strike again."

Ashcroft would not comment specifically on the recent detention by federal law 
enforcement of a Russian computer programmer who created software that allegedly 
violates the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a law that makes it 
illegal to possess or share any program that could be used to crack copyright 
protection. Ashcroft said it wasn't his job to change laws. "My responsibility is to 
defend the law," he said.

Ashcroft also credited Robert Mueller, the current FBI director, with aggressively 
fighting cybercrime. Mueller, who visited the CEOs along with Ashcroft but did not 
speak at the press conference, is the U.S. attorney in the San Francisco office that 
issued arrest orders for the Russian programmer.

The switch in leadership at the Department of Justice and FBI has raised questions 
about the future of a system formerly known as Carnivore, which lets law enforcement 
intercept electronic transmissions such as e-mail. Civil libertarians worry the system 
could be used to spy on innocent citizens, and Ashcroft has voiced similar concerns. 
At the press conference Friday, Ashcroft dodged the issue, saying the FBI no longer 
has a system called Carnivore (the name has been changed) and that he would explore 
systems that are "privacy neutral."


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