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FBI head says cybercrime poses an ‘enormous challenge’

WASHINGTON — Law enforcement faces an ‘‘enormous challenge’’ in preventing state-sponsored cybercrimes, FBI director James Comey said Wednesday, days after the Justice Department charged five Chinese military officials with hacking into American companies to steal trade secrets.

‘‘There are two kinds of big companies in the United States: those who’ve been hacked by the Chinese and those who don’t yet know that they’ve been hacked by the Chinese,’’ Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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The Justice Department on Monday announced a 31-count indictment against Chinese hackers accused of penetrating computer networks of big-name steel companies and makers of solar and nuclear technology to gain a competitive advantage. China denies the allegations.

Comey said the increased focus on cybersecurity has heightened his agency’s demand for new, tech-savvy specialists.

Describing efforts to beef up the FBI workforce on the cyber front, Comey was quoted this week as saying ‘‘some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.’’

Questioned about the remark Wednesday, he said he has no intention of changing current policy that disqualifies applicants if they’ve used marijuana in the last three years.

‘‘I am determined not to lose my sense of humor, but unfortunately there, I was trying to be both serious and funny,’’ Comey said.

Comey said the FBI was grappling with how to balance its desire to recruit a strong workforce with changing attitudes on marijuana use by states and young adults.

‘‘I am absolutely dead-set against using marijuana. I don’t want young people to use marijuana,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s against the law. We have a three-year ban on marijuana. I did not say that I am going to change that ban.’’

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