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Obama urged to create White House cybersecurity chief

Current risk 'unacceptable'

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Inadequate cybersecurity is posing an unacceptable risk to US national security, according to a report released Monday that recommends President Elect Barack Obama create of a new White House post to fix the problem.

The cyber chief should report directly to the President and oversee a comprehensive strategy that combines diplomatic, intelligence, and military tools and works closely with the private sector, according to the 96-page report (PDF) issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Failure to take prompt action is crucial, it warned.

"Our research and interviews for this report made it clear that we face a long-term challenge in cyberspace from foreign intelligence agencies and militaries, criminals, and others, and that losing this struggle will wreak serious damage on the economic health and national security of the United States," the report states. "Finding ways to take better advantage of cyberspace will help give the United States a competitive edge in a world where we are currently running behind, and the ability to operate in cyberspace and to defend against the operations of others will be crucial for our nation to prosper."

The document, titled Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency, also proposes Obama establish a National Office for Cyberspace (NOC) by merging the existing National Cyber Security Center and the Joint Inter-Agency Cyber Task Force. Along with a newly-created directorate of the National Security Council, it would assume expanded authority for enforcing safety standards to be followed by all government agencies.

More than 60 government and business computer security experts participated in drafting the report over the past 18 months. The commission 's chairmen were Democratic congressman Jim Langevin and Republican congressman Michael McCaul. Members included security professions from companies including Microsoft, Deloitte & Touche and Core Security Technologies.

The report also said NOC should secure industrial control systems, such as those used by critical power and manufacturing plants, by developing regulations they would be forced to follow. It also recommended the use of strong authentication technologies and granting consumers the use of strong government-issued credentials.

The report is only the latest time an ad-hoc body has stepped up to propose a major overhaul designed to fix the nation's ailing cybersecurity posture. A few years ago, many of the same recommendations were included in National Infrastructure Advisory Council's National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace. Monday's report makes no attempt to analyze the successes and failures of those earlier recommendations, prompting some criticism among security professionals.

"The fact they're talking about the need to create strategy indicates this (previous effort) wasn't sufficient, yet they don't document how or provide recommendations about what should be done differently," said Tom Parker, director of commercial security services for Securicon, a Washington-based provider of IT security services to federal and commercial customers. "It's important when you have failings like that that you take heed of why you failed."

Parker also said the report should have spent more time discussing the challenges of reining in a security epidemic that is globally dispersed and its failure to receive input from a broad coalition of security researchers.

Still, he credited the report for its proposal that security standards should be mandated, likening it to the so-called Payment Card Industry rules that were imposed several years ago on online merchants that accept credit and debit cards.

The report also called on Obama to direct the Department of Justice to reexamine statutes governing the investigations related to online crime "to increase clarity, speed investigations, and better protect privacy." ®

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