DOJ says new laws needed to track hackers

US Department of Justice (DOJ) officials on Tuesday told a joint congressional committee that the law has to be changed to make it easier to pursue hackers. They also want more money to hire prosecutors and analysts, as well as improve research capabilities of federal, state and local law enforcers investigating cybercrime.

"I would not want to alarm people," said Eric Holder, deputy attorney at the US Department of Justice, "but this is a problem that is ever changing and rapidly expanding. I cannot safely say that we have our hands around the problem. If we did we would not be asking for additional resources."

One problem law enforcement officials haven't solved are the DoS (denial-of-service) attacks early last month that affected Yahoo, eBay, Amazon.com, and some other e-commerce sites. "We are making progress," Holder told members of the US House Subcommittee on Crime and the US Senate Subcommittee Criminal Justice Oversight. The FBI is pursing hundreds of leads, analysing logs of the victims and ISPs (Internet service providers).

Some of those leads have been traced to foreign countries, although federal officials testifying said they didn't think the attacks were state-sponsored. However, nothing has been ruled out. "I think it's too early to tell what the motives might have been," said Michael Vatis, who heads the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Centre.

But DOJ officials said that changes in existing laws would have helped the investigation into the denial-of-service attacks, particularly those concerning the US government's ability to trace a call.

When a hacker breaks into a system, the attack may travel a serpentine route utilising multiple servers and carriers located in numerous states. But when police and federal agents attempt to trace the attack, they must apply for court orders in each jurisdiction -- creating a cumbersome process for investigators.

US Senator Jon Kyl (Republican, Arizona) and Senator Charles Schumer (Democrat, New York) recently introduced a bill that would allow investigators, among other things, to completely trace an online communication to its source without seeking permission from each state.

Such power "would make a tremendous difference in the conduct of this case," said Martha Stansell-Gramm, chief of the computer crime and intellectual property section at the Justice Department.

To combat cybercrime, the Justice Department is seeking an approximately 28 percent increase in next year's budget, which would add $US37 million to the current $138 million budget.

Paul Misener, an Amazon.com vice president, who also testified, said the U.S. government needs to spend more funding on providing "continuous training in the latest digital forensic techniques" and to retain senior information technology professionals and attract new ones.

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