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Obama Gets Tough on Cyber Security

Stating that it is now clear that the cyber threat is "one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation," President Obama on Friday said he plans to appoint a new adviser to head the nation's strategy for securing its digital borders.

Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Obama, who admitted his own campaign's computer network was hacked between August and October 2008, stressed that America's prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cyber security.

"And this is also a matter of public safety and national security," he said. "We count on computer networks to deliver our oil and gas, our power and our water. We rely on them for public transportation and air traffic control. Yet we know that cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid and that in other countries cyber attacks have plunged entire cities into darkness.

In April, credible reports surfaced that cyberspies had already hacked into the U.S. electricity grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system (see NGI, April 13). The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, security officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. While the intruders hadn't sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, officials warned that they could try during a crisis or war.

Obama on Friday said the U.S. government as well as the country as a whole has not done enough to secure itself. "In recent years, some progress has been made at the federal level," he said. "But just as we failed in the past to invest in our physical infrastructure -- our roads, our bridges and rails -- we've failed to invest in the security of our digital infrastructure."

Soon after taking office, Obama directed the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council to conduct a review of the federal government's efforts to defend the nation's information and communications infrastructure and to recommend the best way forward.

From those meetings, Obama said the new approach to cyber security will start at the top. "From now on, our digital infrastructure -- the networks and computers we depend on every day -- will be treated as they should be: as a strategic national asset. Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority. We will ensure that these networks are secure, trustworthy and resilient. We will deter, prevent, detect and defend against attacks and recover quickly from any disruptions or damage."

Obama announced the creation of an office at the White House that will be led by the cyber security coordinator, who the president will personally select.

"We will continue to invest in the cutting-edge research and development necessary for the innovation and discovery we need to meet the digital challenges of our time," Obama said. "And that's why my administration is making major investments in our information infrastructure: laying broadband lines to every corner of America; building a smart electric grid to deliver energy more efficiently; pursuing a next generation of air traffic control systems; and moving to electronic health records, with privacy protections, to reduce costs and save lives."

Obama also attempted to nip in the bud any concerns of federal government spying. "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. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be -- open and free."

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