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Obama unfurls master plan for US cybersecurity

Here comes the cyber czar

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On his first full-day as US President, Barack Obama on Wednesday outlined plans to declare the country's computer infrastructure a national asset that will be protected by a cyber advisor who will report directly to the president.

Part of a broader strategy laid out on the newly revamped Whitehouse.gov website for securing US soil against terrorist attacks and other emergencies, the plan is designed to shore up IT networks and chemical and electrical facilities and prevent cyber-espionage.

The strategy, including the plan to appoint a national cyber czar, largely follows recommendations a bi-partisan group of more than 60 government and business computer security experts offered in December. The lack of specifics about the cyber advisor's role and authority makes it hard to judge how effect the new position will be.

"Certainly, the President will need advising on this issue," said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer for BT. "How he gets it matters less than that he gets it."

In addition to laying out strategies for defeating terrorism and preventing nuclear and biological attacks, the plan focused on ways to protect the nation's information networks. Other plans included:

  • Funding for research and development to harden the US cyber infrastructure. The initiative would involve private industry and academia "to develop and deploy a new generation of secure hardware and software."
  • Working with the private sector to establish "tough new standards for cyber security and physical resilience."
  • Preventing corporate cyber-espionage to protect the nation's trade secrets and research and development.
  • Developing a strategy to minimize opportunities for cybercrime, including "shutting down untraceable internet payment schemes."
  • Mandating standards for securing personal data including the institution of "a common standard for security such data across industries."

The plan also discusses ways to improve the security of critical infrastructure, by tightening regulations for chemical plants and modernizing the electrical grid.

As is typical with master plans, the devil will be in the details. A key feature to watch will be the amount of authority and access to the president given to Obama's cyber advisor. BT's Schneier recalled the difficulty Richard Clarke, former chief counter-terrorism adviser to the US National Security Council, had under former President George W. Bush.

Said Schneier: "Without budgetary authority, it's very hard to do anything." ®

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