In his first major television interview, FBI Director James Comey told 60 Minutes that shifting the agency’s focus towards snuffing a wild proliferation of cybercrime would be central to his 10-year term.
“There are two kinds of big companies in the United States,” Comey said during the interview, which aired Sunday. “There are those who've been hacked by the Chinese, and those who don't know they've been hacked by the Chinese.”
While Comey said that, on a daily basis, there are too many attacks against American computer systems to even count -- and that these assaults have cost the U.S. government billions of dollars in totality -- he called China the top perpetrator on a very long list.
The Chinese are specifically targeting U.S. businesses in order to obtain “information that’s useful to them so they don’t have to invent,” Comey said. Additionally, “They can copy or steal to learn about how a company might approach negotiations with a Chinese company.”
To this end, for the first time, the U.S. Justice Department filed criminal charges against five Chinese government officials on counts of cyber espionage earlier this year. The hackers, members of the People’s Liberation Army, were accused of breaking into nuclear, steel and renewable energy companies in order to tap valuable trade secrets.
At the end of the day, however, Comey does believe that Americans should sleep well at night. Investments in the security sector since 9/11 have resulted in “better systems, better equipment, smarter deployment,” he says.
He also called China highly unsophisticated -- though inexhaustible -- in its approach to espionage. “I liken them a bit to a drunk burglar. They're kicking in the front door, knocking over the vase, while they're walking out with your television set. They're just prolific. Their strategy seems to be: We'll just be everywhere all the time. And there's no way they can stop us.”
Nonetheless, Comey feels that most citizens don’t fully comprehend the extent of abounding threats. “When someone sends you an email,” he warns, “they are knocking on your door. And when you open the attachment, without looking through the peephole to see who it is, you just opened the door and let a stranger into your life, where everything you care about is.”