Refuting speculation that after infuriating first democrats with his handling of Hillary Clinton's email server scandal, and then by demanding that the DOJ deny Trump's allegations that Obama had bugged the Trump Tower, he may quit prematurely, FBI Director James Comey made it clear where he stands on the issue: "You’re stuck with me for about another six and a half years," Comey said on Wednesday at a cybersecurity conference hosted by the FBI and Boston College, referring to the amount of time remaining in his 10-year appointment to the post.
Concerns over Comey's tenure re-emerged after he again found himself in the center of a political storm, this time over probes into Russian hacking of the 2016 election and his request on Sunday night that the Justice Department officials reject President Donald Trump’s claims that his predecessor “tapped” his phones (three days later the DOJ has still not complied with Comey's request). Comey is among those invited to testify at the March 20 hearing over Russian "hacking" of the US elections.
As Bloomberg reports, Comey didn’t address the controversy during his speech, which was focused on cybersecurity threats, or in response to questions from the audience afterward. He did, however, say that hacking attacks are moving beyond just stealing money and data to affect the U.S. economy and security. "They’re increasingly attacks on our fundamental rights, the rights guaranteed to us as free people especially here in this great country," Comey said.
The FBI director also called on companies to report hacking attacks to the FBI - perhaps here he was referring to the DNC which inexplicable sat on news that it had been allegedly hacked by Russians without referring it to the FBI - and develop relationships with the bureau before attacks happen. "The majority of intrusions in this country are not reported to us," he said. ‘It’s a Crime’
Companies shouldn’t retaliate by trying to hack back against their attackers, Comey said. "Don’t do it; it’s a crime," Comey said. "It’s not only against the law but it runs the risk of tremendous confusion in a crowded space."
He also complained about the increasing ease with which smartphones and other devices encrypt the contents of their data, although as Wikileaks broke in a scandalous report yesterday, the CIA does not appear to have much of a problem when it comes to circumventing personal privacy and security. Not the FBI, allegedly, because as Comey said, from October to December 2016, about 1,200 of 2,800 devices seized by law enforcement couldn’t be accessed by FBI personnel due to encryption. “The advent of default, ubiquitous strong encryption is making more and more of the room in which the FBI investigates dark," he said.
Perhaps this was meant to be an overture toward smartphone makers and consumers to be more tolerant of potential FBI snooping and to remove password protections altogether.
But more interesting than even his tenure, was the FBI's take on yesterday's Wikileaks data dump, which as we reported, revealed that CIA hackers have developed tools letting them break into devices to monitor conversations and messages before they can be encrypted. Not surprisingly, Comey didn’t comment on the disclosure but said using hacking tools to break into phones isn’t always efficient or dependable.
"While having other technical tools can be useful, it’s incredibly expensive and it doesn’t scale," he said. "It can’t be used broadly because it’s perishable." He did not provide a reasonable alternative.