FBI Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday that terrorists may seek to train their own recruits or hire outsiders with an eye toward pursuing cyber attacks on the United States.
"Terrorists have not used the Internet to launch a full-scale cyber attack, but we cannot underestimate their intent," Mueller said in prepared testimony to a House appropriations subcommittee. He said terrorists have shown interest in developing hacking skills, and that the evolving nature of the problem makes the FBI's counterterrorism mission more difficult.
Under questioning by Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, Mueller said he would support increasing the criminal penalties for computer hacking in the context of economic espionage as the U.S. seeks to protect sensitive information.
"Our companies are targeted for insider information and our universities and national laboratories are targeted for their research and development," the FBI director told the congressional panel.
This week, a group of expert hackers who attacked governments and corporations around the globe was busted after its ringleader became an informant for the FBI.
Mueller said there are FBI cyber squads in each of the bureau's 56 field offices. The FBI has more than 1,000 specially trained agents, analysts, and digital forensic examiners who run complex undercover operations and examine digital evidence.