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Obama cybersecurity order lacks bite, security experts say

Jaikumar Vijayan | Feb. 14, 2013
Scaled back order a good start, but comprehensive bipartisan legislation is essential to prevent cyberattacks.

President Barack Obama's cybersecurity executive order, announced during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, elicited guarded praise from several quarters even as it revived calls for more comprehensive bipartisan legislation to address long-term security threats.

As expected, Obama last night signed a Presidential Policy Directive requiring federal agencies and critical infrastructure owners and operators to work cooperatively to minimize cyber risks and strengthen resilience to attacks.

The order stems from what the White House has long said is the need for immediate action to protect critical assets against cyber threats because of Congress' continued failure to pass legislation.

Republicans, however, have assailed the plan to issue the order as unnecessary presidential overreach and have long maintained that the best way to address security issues is through bipartisan legislation.

BITS, the technology policy division of the influential Financial Services Roundtable, last night called the directive a constructive step forward but added that legislation is still necessary.

"While the Executive Order moves our nation forward, Congressional action is needed to effect additional fundamental improvement," the group said in a statement. "We urge Congress to build upon these actions, while not duplicating them."

Alan Paller, research director at the SANS Institute in Bethesda called the executive order weaker than expected.

Draft versions of the executive order had contained language that required industry to develop voluntary best practices for cybersecurity and then assigning regulatory agencies to enforce them. That language was excluded from the final version of the order, Paller said.

"The shocker was that, in the very last version, at the insistence of industry lobbyists, the White House took out all elements that would have made attacks against the United States less effective and harder to launch," Paller said.

Obama's order requires that federal government agencies share cyberthreat and vulnerability information with each other and with private companies. It calls for the enablement of a national situational awareness capability for cybersecurity through better information sharing.

The executive order establishes two national critical infrastructure centers to be operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One will focus on physical infrastructure and the other on cyber infrastructure.

The centers will serve as a central point for collecting and disseminating threat information gathered by various sector specific government agencies and departments and by owners of critical infrastructure.

The centers will also be responsible for integrating, analyzing and prioritizing vulnerability and threat information from various sources including the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice and the intelligence community.

As part of this function, the DHS centers will recommend prevention and mitigation measures for critical infrastructure prior to and during a cyberattack, and will help with incident response and restoration efforts.


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