In its Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation asked for $21 million to go towards fighting cryptocurrency-linked cybercrime. Like so many of the FBI’s proposals, the requests were made under the Bureau’s “Going Dark” initiative. Counter-terrorism is also looking to benefit from Going Dark, thanks to advanced communications.
The FBI requested a total of nearly $9 billion for their law enforcement and national security activities. Various quantities will, if approved as-is, be assigned to various departments. For instance, $6.8 million would go to transnational crime and $41.5 million towards the FBI’s “Cyber Investigative Technologies.”
According to the Bureau, they need the additional $21 million (realistically a drop in the bucket for a federal agency) because communication technologies are too tough to crack. They wrote that the communications “present a significant challenge” when conducting electronic surveillance. “There is a real and growing gap between law enforcement’s legal authority to access digital information and its technical ability to do so,” the Budget Request explained.
Nearly every category in the Request appeared both standard and boilerplate. But, with the exception of the Cybercrime section, the Going Dark entry contained the majority of the new information. That made sense to a degree; technology became tremendously more advanced throughout the past five years. And the trend will repeat perpetually (or at least through 2018).
In one paragraph, the FBI managed to cover counter-terrorism, ISIS recruitment through encrypted messages, identifying online pedophiles, anonymizing tech, drug traffickers, and cryptocurrencies:
“In the counterterrorism context, for instance, our agents and analysts are increasingly finding that communications and contacts between groups like ISIS and potential recruits occur in encrypted private messaging platforms. Some of our criminal investigators face the challenge of identifying online pedophiles who hide their crimes and identities behind layers of anonymizing technologies, or drug traffickers who use virtual currencies to obscure their transactions.”
The Bureau claimed that in the first half of the Fiscal Year, they were unable to access the contents of 3,000 phones. Agents develop case by case solutions when possible, but that tactic lacked efficacy, the paper claimed. The FBI’s lapdog, Cellebrite, claimed—during the San Bernardino ordeal—that the firm could basically crack any phone. On a case-to-case basis, the company does charge more to crack a phone. (Generally to save industry secrets from competitive companies.) The FBI wrote that they “invest in alternative methods of lawful engineered access.”
From the counter-terrorism section, the FBI explained why so many Westerners had been influenced by ISIS. “ISIS’ extensive reach through the Internet and social media is most concerning as the group continues to aggressively employ the latest technology as part of its nefarious strategy,” the Bureau explained.
The 2010 Going Dark FY Request
“Due to many technological advances, the message of radicalization spreads faster than we imagined just a few years ago,” the FBI wrote.
Again, despite every major success story and threatening notice to darknet vendors via press releases, the FBI may simply be excellent at functioning with a low budget. They seem to continually succeed in their investigations (other than Operation Pacifier). Yet, the technological advances finally broke the FBI’s capabilities down. With so many of the FBI’s recent cases, one might think the FBI had little-to-no trouble gathering evidence and cloning phones. But ever since the FBI decided Going Dark was live, they claim to be consistently behind the times when it comes to cellphone.