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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.

The executive order puts DHS in charge of planning, coordinating and implementing changes. It requires the DHS and sector-specific federal agencies to work with critical infrastructure owners and regulatory entities to develop security guidelines and metrics for measuring progress.

It gives the DHS six months to identify baseline data formats and systems that federal agencies and critical infrastructure operators will need to use to receive and share threat information with each other in a secure and privacy-friendly manner.

Under the executive order, the DHS has 240 days to demonstrate a near real-time situational awareness capability that can assimilate threat information from multiple sources, analyze it and disseminate it.

"We know hackers steal people's identities and infiltrate private emails," Obama said in his address. "Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to attack our power grid, our air traffic control system. We cannot look back years from now and ask why we did nothing to face real threats to our security and our economy."

The contents of Obama's executive order are similar in some respects to the provisions of the 2012 White House-backed Cybersecurity Act. That bill stalled in the Senate last year over objections from Republicans who saw it as being too prescriptive and giving the DHS too much enforcement authority.

It also contains at least some of the same information-sharing provisions in the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) of 2012. The CISPA bill, recently reintroduced in Congress, seeks to promote cybersecurity by enabling better information sharing between the government and the commercial sector.

Some industry groups oppose the bill on privacy grounds.

Obama's executive order enables better information sharing but lacks the legal and liability protections that CISPA offers for companies that share information with each other and the government.

The effectiveness of the executive order depends on the quality of the threat information that the government is able to share with private companies, said Lawrence Pingree, an analyst at Gartner.

"It remains to be seen whether the government has useful intelligence that can help bolster commercial sector security or is the benefit the other way around," Pingree said.

Several Democratic lawmakers were quick to welcome the executive order but insisted that legislation is required to fully address long-term security needs.

"The voluntary framework and information sharing improvements developed under this issuance are vital components of ensuring the security and resiliency of our critical infrastructure," said Senator Tom Carper (D-Del), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee

But "more action is needed to address cybersecurity and I still believe that bipartisan legislation offers the best long-term solution to this serious security threat," he said in a statement.


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