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FBI

NEW YORK -- From dirty bombs and high-tech spies to teenagers planning DOS attacks with Sony PlayStations, the F.B.I. has its hands full with a growing number of cyber-threats, according to David Thomas, deputy assistant director of the agency's science and technology branch.

The official, a keynoter at a conference here today, warned that the Internet is more important to U.S. national security than ever before. "We know that terrorists would like to create a dirty bomb," he said, explaining that his agency has to keep this know-how within the U.S. "Spying is changing -- whereas before people had to travel to the U.S., now they don't have to."

Senior officials, such as 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick and former presidential security adviser Richard Clarke, have already highlighted the cyber-threat posed by groups such as Al-Qaida, although this is just one of many issues on Thomas's desk. (See U.S.: Al Qaeda Eyeing Cyber Threats.)

A new breed of hackers, for example, is emerging in eastern Europe, posing a fresh challenge to corporate America. "They are using brokerage accounts to manipulate stocks now," warned Thomas. "If you have a brokerage account, you have to watch it like a hawk."

For some time now, eastern Europe has been the cyber-equivalent of the Wild West, with governments struggling to clamp down on hackers and organized crime. Even Thomas has been a victim. "I gave an interview for the Wall Street Journal last January on eastern European hacking groups and within four hours my accounts had been cleared out," he said.

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