War on cybercrimes priority for FBI

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SALT LAKE CITY -- At any moment all around the world, a crime is being committed online. A map by cyber security group, Norse, shows it happening in real time, pinpointing where the attack is coming from and who it’s against.

“We’re facing criminals who are sitting in their basements halfway around the world thinking it’s a freebie to steal Americans’ identity and their money. And they’re moving at the speed of light, said James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

It’s why combating cybercrime has become a priority for Comey. As part of a national tour, he stopped to meet with local law enforcement agencies in Salt Lake City on Tuesday -- a place he believes is leading the charge in stopping criminals on the Internet.

“We have made it much harder for bad people to get into this country, physically,” Comey said. “The challenge we face is that a photon on the Internet moves at the speed of light. I was chemistry major, so I remember that is 186,000 miles per second.”

Last year, the FBI launched Operation Wellspring in Utah.

The operation is a collaboration between investigators with the FBI and the state’s Department of Public Safety to put a stop to online crime that’s been costly for people living in Utah.

“If it were ever really exposed, you’d be talking up into the billions of dollars, both in loss to state government, local government, but also the private sector,” said Keith Squires, Commissioner for Utah’s DPS.

The work has already helped catch people in Utah, such as Shane Call, who authorities said pleaded guilty to communications fraud for his involvement in selling counterfeit jerseys online.

But more serious cases have led investigators to suspects overseas.

“We had one case I can’t go into a lot of details, but it originated here in the state of Utah,” Squires said. “The next report I got on it had legs to another state in the northwest, and suddenly it went outside of the country.”

Those will become the focus of Comey, who is just beginning his decade on the job.

“That is something that is going to transform and dominate my 10-year term -- is how do we protect the American people against terrorism threats, espionage threats, criminal threats all of which are coming at us through our computer,” Comey said. “On the Internet, Syria is right next door to Salt Lake City.”