WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI's Washington field office has created a squad dedicated to investigating intellectual property thefts, part of a more aggressive law enforcement approach on cybercrime, an official said Friday.
The squad started this month, with agents pulled from varied areas of expertise to investigate all corners of intellectual property and economic espionage ranging from harmful counterfeit medical products to multi-million-dollar trade secrets plundered by sophisticated hackers, said Trent Teyema, assistant special agent in charge of the office's cyber branch.
"That pill that you order online: Is that what's supposed to be? Or is it sawdust or something else?" Teyema said. "We're looking at everything from health and safety to theft of trade secrets to intellectual property."
Teyema said Washington was a logical choice for an intellectual property squad because the Department of Justice is headquartered in the nation's capital and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, a task force of different law enforcement agencies, is in the nearby Crystal City section of Arlington, Va.
The creation of the squad comes as federal authorities increasingly warn of the threat posed by hackers and cyberattacks, and as Americans confront the risk of a strike to the computer networks that control the electric grid and water supply. On Thursday, for instance, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the department was investing more than $3 billion a year in cybersecurity and that the cyberthreat from Iran had grown. The White House last week acknowledged an attempt to infiltrate its computer system, but officials said mitigation measures identified the attack and prevented it from spreading.
Although motives for cyberattacks vary, a common thread is that virtually all companies these days have an online and international presence, making them vulnerable to a competitor seeking to lift a secret or cripple a website, Teyema said.
"The international access to computers, and multi-national companies — and people wanting convenient access to their systems — that's what's opened up a lot of these vulnerabilities," he said. "It's still old vulnerabilities, old holes in operating systems, that people are getting in by."
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