FBI agents took down or disrupted only about one-tenth as many cyber criminal operations during the 2017 fiscal year as they did three years earlier, according to annual reports.
The number of cyber crime operations that FBI agents dismantled or disrupted fell from nearly 2,500 in fiscal year 2014, the first year reliable records were kept, to just 262 in fiscal year 2017, according to annual audits.
The FBI missed its own target of 500 disruptions or dismantlements in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, according to the report.
Despite missing that goal, the FBI’s cyber division “made noteworthy progress towards neutralizing global cyber threats,” according to the 2017 report. The bureau also continues to list cyber operations as one of its major priorities and officials frequently highlight cyber operations during public events.
Dismantlement means that the organization’s financial base and supply networks have all been rendered inoperable, according to the audit documents, while disruptions mark major milestones on the road to dismantlement.
It’s not clear if the ten-fold reduction in disruptions and dismantlements reflects a shift in FBI priorities, a change in tactics or some other cause.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the figures or to provide additional context.
The audit documents don’t describe any change in definitions or methodology that might account for the massive reduction.
FBI budget documents don’t break out year-on-year cyber operations funding, which might give another clue to the reduction.
The disruption and dismantlement numbers also don’t account for the varying size and complexity of cyber crime operations, which can range from a few miscreants trading in stolen credit card numbers to major financial fraud operations and global botnet armies.
Private-sector analyses have typically shown that the financial damage from cyber crime has grown year on year, though it’s notoriously difficult to suss out hard numbers in the murky world of cyberspace.
The FBI is working on improving how it describes and prioritizes cyber threats, following a 2016 recommendation from the bureau’s internal auditor, according to the 2017 report. The FBI’s current methodology “does not prioritize cyber threats in an objective, data-driven, reproducible, and auditable manner,” the bureau’s inspector general found.