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Obama To Name Cyber Czar For Protection Of US Networks

May 29, 2009

President Barack Obama announced on Friday that he would name a new  “cyber czar” to ensure the country is protecting the security of its computer networks. 

Speaking at the White House, Obama said the U.S. must do more to deter and defend against a growing number of criminal, espionage and hacker attacks on public and private networks.

“It is the great irony of our information age — the very technologies that empower us to create and to build, also empower those who would seek to disrupt and destroy,” said Obama, flanked by a number of government officials and corporate executives.

“This cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.”

“It’s also clear that we’re not as prepared as we should be, as a government or as a country.”

“We can and we must do better,” he said.

Obama said he would soon appoint the new coordinator for cyber security, who will be tasked with overseeing government protection of U.S. networks and coordinating the various government agencies involved.  The new position will report to both the National Security Council and the National Economic Council, and will serve as a “key” member of Obama’s national security staff.

The president’s announcement coincides with a number of studies that show cyber criminals, hackers, industrial spied and foreign intelligence services ““ namely Russia and China ““ are increasingly preying on U.S. networks.

Indeed, breaches of the nation’s electric grid and the F-35 fighter jet program have been reported, in addition to cyber attacks against computer hubs used in Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  Some have blamed these attacks on foreign intelligence services.  

Last November, a congressional panel cautioned that China had developed a sophisticated cyber warfare initiative and had beefed up its ability to penetrate U.S networks to access classified and other sensitive data.

Obama also unveiled a “top to bottom” assessment of U.S. network infrastructure and its susceptibility to cyber crime. The review was led by former Bush administration official Melissa Hathaway, who is currently serving as the interim White House cyber security adviser.  

The report made a series of recommendations, including calling for the establishment of the new cyber security post, a review of insufficient policies and laws and improving government efforts to protect networks.

The report also said that the U.S. government must put in place a rapid response strategy to major cyber attacks.

“My administration will pursue a new comprehensive approach to securing America’s digital infrastructure,” said Obama, referring to classified military networks, private networks and the public Internet.

“Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority,” he said.

“We will deter, prevent, protect and defend against these attacks.”

The AFP quoted Cisco Systems Inc. vice president and chief security officer John Stewart as calling the report the “most focused and thorough discussion about the security of the nation’s online infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon gave indications that it was planning to create a new military command for cyberspace to assist the nation’s armed forces in conducting both offensive and defensive computer warfare.  A New York Times report on Friday said the President was expected to sign a classified order in the weeks ahead to create the new cyber command.

A number of names have been mentioned for Obama’s new cyber czar position, including Hathaway, Paul Kurtz, former senior director for national security in the National Cybersecurity Center’s office of cyberspace security and Rod Beckstrom, former director of the National Cybersecurity Center (NCSC) at the Department of Homeland Security.

Under the previous administration of former President George W. Bush, cyber security was subject to intense turf battles between the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency (NSA).

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