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Justice Department unveils civil cyber fraud initiative to battle online crime

New proposal will respond to cyber security breaches and cryptocurrency use in undertaking cyber fraud

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced its new Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative that will combine its expertise in civil fraud enforcement, government procurement and cyber security to combat new and emerging cyber threats to sensitive information and critical systems.

The Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch Fraud Section will lead the initiative and directly result from the department’s ongoing comprehensive cyber review, ordered by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco in May. The review aims to develop actionable recommendations to enhance and expand the Justice Department’s efforts against cyber threats.

Monaco said that companies have chosen silence for too long under the mistaken belief that it is less risky to hide a breach than to bring it forward and report it.

"Well, that changes today. We are announcing today that we will use our civil enforcement tools to pursue companies, those who are government contractors who receive federal funds, when they fail to follow required cybersecurity standards — because we know that puts all of us at risk," she said.

She added the tool would help government agencies ensure taxpayer's money would be used appropriately in the public interest.

The initiative would use the False Claims Act to pursue cyber-security-related fraud by government contractors and grant recipients. This act is the government’s primary civil tool to redress false federal funds and property claims involving government programs and operations. 

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The act includes a unique whistleblower provision that allows private parties to assist the government in identifying and pursuing fraudulent conduct and to share in any recovery and protects whistleblowers who expose these violations and failures from retaliation, according to the DoJ.

The policy would also hold accountable companies or individuals that put federal agency information or systems at risk “by knowingly providing deficient cyber security products or services, knowingly misrepresenting their cyber security practices or protocols, or knowingly violating obligations to monitor and report cyber security incidents and breaches.”

The benefits expected from this initiative range from increasing the security of information systems in both the private and public sectors to improving overall cyber security practices, such as building broad resilience to cyber intrusion into government, the public sector and key industry partners, and compliance with contractors' commitments to protect government information and infrastructure, among others.

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