FBI boss: Congress must renew Section 702 spy powers – that's how we get nearly all our cyber intel

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Nearly each of nan FBI's method intelligence connected malicious "cyber actors" successful nan first half of this twelvemonth was obtained via Section 702 searches, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Section 702 of nan Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, introduced successful 2008 connected nationalist information grounds, chiefly allows nan Feds to snoop connected foreigners' overseas physics communications — but sometimes Americans get caught successful nan surveillance dragnet, too. Even US senators, arsenic we discovered past week.

With nan arguable FISA amendment group to expire astatine nan extremity of nan year, unless Congress reauthorizes nan snooping clause, Wray has been making nan rounds and delivering nan aforesaid message: nan FBI "cannot spend to lose" Section 702. 

The spying powers granted by Section 702 are "absolutely vital" domiciled successful preventing cyberattacks targeting US organizations and individuals, according to Wray, and allowed nan FBI to corroborate who was down that Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.

Section 702 besides identified an effort by Chinese spies to compromised an unnamed US proscription hub, and "saved a US nonprofit from an Iranian ransomware onslaught past twelvemonth and recovered their stolen accusation truthful they didn't person to salary a ransom astatine all," Wray said during his July 26 keynote astatine nan FBI Atlanta Cyber Threat Summit.

"Section 702 is captious to our expertise successful peculiar to get and action cyber intelligence," Wray said. "With 702, we tin link nan dots betwixt overseas threats and targets present successful nan US, searching accusation already lawfully wrong nan government's holding truthful that we tin notify victims who whitethorn not moreover cognize they've been compromised, sometimes informing them moreover earlier they get hit." 

The first half of this year, 97 percent of our earthy method reporting connected cyber actors came from Section 702

"You mightiness beryllium amazed to perceive that malicious cyber actors person accounted for complete half of our Section 702 reporting," Wray added connected Wednesday.

"The first half of this year, 97 percent of our earthy method reporting connected cyber actors came from Section 702. That's each intelligence we tin action done threat alerts and protect briefings; intelligence we usage to thief cyber victims."

This actionable threat intel, he said, helped nan FBI retrieve astir of nan $4.4 cardinal ransom that Colonial Pipeline paid aft its IT systems were deed by extortionists successful 2021. It besides "preventing nan nonaccomplishment of millions, perchance billions of dollars," by foiling that aforementioned Beijing-backed scheme to breach a proscription hub, Wray added, though he didn't supply circumstantial specifications astir nan attempt.

Identifying these intrusion efforts via S. 702 were captious successful "avoiding wide transit disruptions, and astir importantly, keeping nan American nationalist safe," Wray said.

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"Those of you who cognize maine cognize that I'm not nan benignant of feline that is prone to overstatement," he added. "So erstwhile I opportunity it's vital, it's not helpful, it's not important: it's vital."

Wray didn't mention nan flipside of Section 702: nan FBI has routinely abused this snooping power, according to antecedently classified tribunal opinions released this summer.

The bureau misused its warrantless surveillance abilities much than 278,000 times betwixt 2020 and early 2021 to behaviour searches connected George Floyd protesters, January 6 rioters who stormed nan Capitol, and donors to a Congressional campaign, according to 1 of nan tribunal opinions.

Despite a full-court PR run from rule enforcement, lawmakers person indicated that they are improbable to reauthorize Section 702 without adding immoderate safeguards to protect people's privacy.

On July 21, Wray wrote a missive [PDF] to US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) successful which he gave that aforesaid 97 percent fig to underline "the worth of Section 702 to protect Americans and nan Homeland."

Moving connected to China and AI…

Also during nan keynote address, Wray called retired nan threat posed by China building a immense AI-powered strategy to thrust cyberattacks.

"It's sewage a bigger hacking programme than that of each awesome federation combined, and it has stolen much of our individual and firm information than each federation large aliases small, combined," Wray said, repeating nan 50 Chinese cyber-spies for each 1 FBI expert stat he's noted successful erstwhile talks.

Plus, nan truth that China has amassed each of this accusation belonging to US businesses and mean folks intends it poses "double" nan threat erstwhile it comes to using AI for evil.

China "has already spent years stealing some our invention and monolithic troves of information that turns retired to beryllium cleanable for training instrumentality learning models," Wray said. "And now they're successful a position to adjacent nan cycle, to usage nan fruits of their wide hacking to powerfulness pinch AI even-more-powerful hacking efforts." ®