By Mary Stroka
Special Agent Lizabeth Lehrkamp of the FBI’s Minneapolis, Minn., field office received the 2014 Infragard Coordinator of the Year award on Sept. 8 from FBI Director James Comey at the InfraGard Annual Congress in Leesburg, Va. Lehrkamp, prior coordinator of the Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota InfraGard chapters, was one of 15 Special Agent coordinators nominated nationwide. The award recognizes these coordinators who aid in the advancement of InfraGard by presenting to members on various threats in order to review their experiences and best practices. Lizabeth began her career with the FBI in 2005 as a Special Agent in Newark, NJ, and she is now serving the FBI on its white collar crime squad in Minneapolis, Minn.
We were honored to speak with Lizabeth to discuss her accomplishments throughout her time with the FBI and are pleased to relay to the InfraGard membership the experiences she has had as a conveyer of knowledge of the security industry, a builder of public-private relationships and a special agent with a focus on cyber and IT security.
IMA: How did you get started with your career with the FBI and develop your interest in security?
Lizabeth Lehrkamp: I’m a mechanical engineer. I lived in the Bay Area of California, and my husband and I decided that we wanted to move back to the Midwest. When we got back here, I was looking for a job and I went to a career fair. While waiting to talk to a booth in the corner, I was waiting in a line, and I happened to be standing in front of the FBI booth. And the agent there that does recruiting started up a conversation, as is his job, and it started off kind of rocky, like “Hey, I’m here for an engineering job, what do you guys want — you don’t want engineers.” “Obviously I’m here at an engineering career fair, so we do want engineers.”
I had never considered being an agent or in law enforcement at all, so this came as kind of a surprise to me. So I chatted with him for a little bit, and the final thing he said, and this always makes me laugh, is that, “You’ve obviously got time on your hands, so you may as well go online and apply.” It makes me laugh because he was right, I was job hunting at the time, so I went home and I applied online.
That was 10 years ago. I ended up going to Newark, and I worked two and a half years in Italian organized crime. And then I cross-trained over to cyber because we wanted to get back to Minnesota, and the joke was “I’m not going to get there with Italian organized crime because there are no Italians in Minnesota.” So I needed something that Minnesota would want. Through training I positioned myself to get over to the squad. So that’s when a little more of the cybersecurity and IT security came into it.
I started out with what we consider “low-end” work, Internet crimes. I also did some intellectual property rights, so I did work with the movie studios for a lot of the movie piracy. That was back in 2007, 2008. There were multiple takedowns around that time. And then I started moving over and doing a little more of the intrusion work, which is higher end, where somebody is actually intruding into somebody’s network. While doing that, it became clear that a lot of companies weren’t doing enough to protect themselves. We are a law enforcement agency, which means that after the bad things happen, we will come and investigate and try to put the bad guys in jail. But when it comes to these types of crimes, if the due diligence was a little higher, they wouldn’t have been hit to begin with.
And then I got my transfer to Minneapolis in 2010. When I got here, they had a new squad, called the human intelligence squad.
IMA: So how were you able to help?
LL: When I came in, I was requested by the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) in charge of my squad that we needed to go and have relationships with our local companies for IT security. There’s a lot of solid businesses here. I mean we darn near own the medical device industry. St. Jude and Medtronic are headquartered here. Boston Scientific is not headquartered here but has thousands of employees. So we have a really, really good and fairly technical work community. The problem is, they saw us as the people that walked in with a subpoena or a search warrant. They saw us in the black suits and the unsmiling faces. And they weren’t going to call us voluntarily when they had an issue. Private industry owns 80-85 percent of the country’s infrastructure. So the government can only control a small portion of it. And that would be all the DoD and all the agencies. Past that, if there’s an issue, there’s no law. … I mean they’re working on it, but there’s no law that says you have to tell me anything.
The more people bringing that out, the more chances you’re going to have, you can look for the bad things happening because we can tell you. By bringing it to us, we’re kind of a neutral party here. I’m not your competitor, and I’m not going to tell the newspaper. All I’m going to do is take out the important information and say, here’s the known bads. Here is what to look for in your network. That’s it. And it doesn’t matter what industry it is, because the known bads are crossing industries. Don’t get me wrong — some of them specifically want banking information. That’s true. But it’s never bad to look for it, because guess how much information can lead to your account that your employer has. So even if you’re not a financial institution, if someone wants banking information, if they hack your employer, they’re going to get all the stuff they need to start breaking into your bank account.
About six months into the job, I was asked to take over as InfraGard coordinator. I just melded the two jobs together because InfraGard is all about the community outreach, the ability for the FBI to correspond with our private sector and back. So when I stand up in front of a group at an InfraGard meeting, my job is to represent my organization and to, again, make them comfortable, knowing that I’m not going to spread their information everywhere but use it in a manner that is helpful. And they also need to trust me. So I spend a lot of time working on that trust, so that phone call does happen, or the email occurs.
And this way, it also gives me a secure location, because you’re familiar with the portal that’s secured and all the members have a background check, so if there’s information I need to get out to the community, I have a secured method to get that information out. And that’s hugely important, because, as of four years ago, we didn’t really have that great of a way to do it.
It’s just interesting because I used to be very technical. And it turns out that that’s not what we needed. People are still clicking on links. It drives me out of my gourd when you see some of these breaches that are very big and when you trace it back, somebody clicked on a link in an email. And that’s what started the whole thing. I’m like, “Really? Really? A link? You clicked on a link? And now your company’s out of millions of dollars. But that’s the thing, that’s pretty common.
IMA: So you’re still working with the companies and their IT?
LL: Actually, as of two weeks ago, I switched over to white collar. I have a couple of pet projects that my boss has allowed me to do.
IMA: What kinds of things are you working on in white collar?
LL: White collar is financial fraud. Financial institution fraud and healthcare fraud are the two main, but we also do some trade secret cases.
There’s something that’s kind of crossing over between my old job and my new job. I consider it a type of accounting fraud and there’s a lot of information out there but it’s still not getting out. Basically, somebody in an accounting department will get an email that looks like it’s coming from someone higher up in the company, that says to change the wiring information or wire money to this account. And then they wire the money into that account because it’s like a payable thing. Well, they find out later that the person who sent the email is not the CFO, CEO, whoever they thought it was. It’s our bad guy, who has done one of a couple different things, but the whole point is, this person just took their word for it via email. And in some cases, wired millions of dollars. This is happening across the country. You have got to warn accounts payable about this. There need to be better controls in place. Because if you’re paying attention, then you’re not going to lose your money.
IMA: So you have pet projects, or is that classified?
LL: I like to talk to kids a lot. Especially as a member of Society of Women Engineers, I like to work with teenage girls to talk about their career opportunities, whether it’s in engineering or law enforcement. These teenagers girls — somebody I spoke with at their office, they asked me to go speak with their kid’s school. One girl asked me a question — “My dad doesn’t think that engineering or law enforcement is a girl’s job. How do I make him change his mind?” I’m like, “Not sure I can help you with that, but perhaps become an engineer!” So I work with kids groups whenever I get the opportunity. There’s an explorers group that looks at engineering and IT. And I do a little case with them, and what we did is we split them up into two groups and they had to solve the case. It’s just a fun thing to do with teenagers to get them involved and understanding what does law enforcement do. We’re not what you see on TV.
IMA: What are some things that you are especially proud of over the course of your career with the FBI?
LL: In the last four and a half years, I have created a network of people in the Twin Cities that are willing to call the FBI not just on IT security but on anything. They’re reaching out to us versus us reaching out to them. So I’ve created a trust within a large portion of our private industry that we’re not the scary, black-suited, come-to-take-your-computers [people], but we actually would like to be a little more proactive and help you. From my time in the Twin Cities, that’s really the big accomplishment — getting organizations to trust that what they tell us is secure and we’re not going to go and prosecute something. When you’re a victim, we’re not going to tell the news; we’re not going to put you on trial — you’re a victim.
IMA: Do you have any interesting stories you can share with us?
LL: Italian organized crimes, talk about interesting stories. I worked an eight-and-a-half month wire out in New Jersey. At the end of the wire, I wasn’t allowed to go out on any of the arrests because I was pregnant. I ended up working the command post. And you’re talking about a two-year agent. That’s a baby agent. It was me and one other person that worked the command post, and we were the people keeping it all running and in line. There were 144 law enforcement personnel involved in the searches and subsequent arrests after that. Eight different law enforcement agencies were involved — several state and local. It was an interesting thing to do because we had 20 arrests and 22 searches going on that morning, and actually through that afternoon depending on how big the search was. So for a new agent, that’s kind of an interesting thing. You have to work out the logistics on it. I’d say, especially being so new, it’s one of the cool things they had me do then. I’m an engineer, so logistics and organizing, spreadsheets, are kind of my thing.
IMA: So you think that your engineering background definitely helped prepare you for the FBI?
LL: Yeah! If you think of what engineers do, we’re problem solvers. It’s a lot of what engineers do. My job, because I have a manufacturing background, what often would be is, something’s wrong on the line, something’s not working. Figure out the problem, fix it, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s an investigation. The idea is, you do the logical, scientific thought process. You bring the same thing to investigation.
IMA: So you’re planning to retire soon? Or just from that position?
LL: No, no, no just the job itself. … Have you ever seen a quarterback who tries to hold on too long? So I’ve done what I can here; it’s time to move on. I still have 10 more years.
IMA: Do you have any other interests or hobbies you’re doing that you’d like to talk about?
LL: I have a 625-square-foot garden. It’s one of the good things about the move from New Jersey; I didn’t have that option back there. That would be my outside hobby.
IMA: So do you grow mostly flowers or …?
LL: Oh no, no, no — all vegetables. I grow tomatoes, peppers, all sorts of things … and we can and freeze. Beans. I’m a frustrated farmer, I think. I’d love to own acres and grow massive amounts of food, but I have a full-time job. One that I like, don’t get me wrong. Also, my husband and I both cook. We joke that when I retire, we’re going to have a food truck.