Obama: Cyber Security is a National Security Priority
President Barack Obama today pledged to make securing the nation's most vital computer networks a top economic and national security priority, broadly detailing the results of 60-day cyber security review that calls for a range of responses to help improve the security of information networks that power the government and the U.S. economy.
Speaking at the White House this morning, the president said he would work to make sure the nation's core digital infrastructure is treated as a national asset.
"Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority. We will ensure that these networks are secure, trustworthy and resilient." Obama said. "We will deter, prevent, detect, and defend against attacks and recover quickly from any disruptions or damage."
As expected, Obama said he plans to create a new office at the White House to be led by a cyber security coordinator "responsible for orchestrating and integrating all cyber security policies for the government; working closely with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure agency budgets reflect those priorities; and, in the event of major cyber incident or attack, coordinating our response."
"I'll depend on this official in all matters relating to cyber security, and this official will have my full support and regular access to me as we confront these challenges," the president said.
In conjunction with Obama's speech, the White House today released its Cyberspace Policy Review, a document that outlines possibilities for encouraging progress in securing digital systems run by the government, as well as those within the private sector companies that own and operate most of the nation's vital digital systems, from transportation and communications networks to energy and water distribution systems.
"The government, working with State and local partners, should identify procurement strategies that will incentivize the market to make more secure products and services available to the public," the document states. "Additional incentive mechanisms that the government should explore include adjustments to liability considerations (reduced liability in exchange for improved security or increased liability for the consequences of poor security), indemnification, tax incentives, and new regulatory requirements and compliance mechanisms."
Tom Kellermann, vice president of security awareness at Core Security Technologies, said the Obama administration is signaling that some form of increased government intervention may be necessary to protect the nation's critical digital networks.
"This is acknowledgment that the government needs to assist in improving industry's cyber security posture, whether that means creating liability regimes, giving them more money or regulating them more," Kellermann said. "It's clear that in many cases, the market won't resolve these problems, and that this administration is open to any and all means possible security critical information systems."
Obama also said the new White House-level cyber security office would include an official "with a portfolio specifically dedicated to safeguarding the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.
"Let me also be clear about what we will not do," the president said. "Our pursuit of cyber security will not -- I repeat, will not include -- monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans."
Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit policy group in Washington, praised the administration for being open and transparent in conducting its cyber review. But she said the group remains concerned that there isn't a lot of guidance on how to make sure the process stays transparent going forward.
"Whether the cyber security program is a success in the long run is going to depend in part on whether cyber security officials make transparency a priority," Harris said. "We would like to see a pledge from the White House cyber security official that the open process that lead to the report will continue through policymaking and implementation."
Rod Beckstrom, a former top cyber security official who resigned his post earlier this year in part to call attention to what he characterized as a power grab by the National Security Agency in overseeing the security of federal and civilian networks, said Obama will be held to his words.
"It's a tough thing to police, and if we want to make sure that's the case, we have to make some serious investments in independent auditors inside the government," Beckstrom said.
Obama also said he is "firmly committed" to the principles of Net neutrality, or preventing telecommunications carriers from blocking or charging higher rates for Internet traffic depending on the types of content flowing across their networks.
Beckstrom said Obama's remarks on Net neutrality were unexpected, and were probably influenced in part by the role of Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, whom Obama recently appointed to his Science and Technology Advisory Council.
For a slightly different perspective, I also sought comments from Jeff Moss, founder of the extremely well-attended Black Hat and Defcon hacker conferences held annual in Las Vegas. Moss said cyber security as a national and international priority has gotten such little attention and authority over the years "that any movement in the direction of recognizing the critical amount of dependence we have on our digital infrastructure is welcome. Over time I hope this office will be flexible and motivational, much like a senate whip, cajoling all the other departments that own and operate important networks."
May 29, 2009; 2:55 PM ET
Categories: U.S. Government | Tags: cyber czar, net neutrality, obama, privacy
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