Obama's plan for cyber safety

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. The United States is not as prepared as it should be to protect its computer networks. That's the message from President Obama. Today, Mr. Obama announced a new effort to protect the country from cyber-criminals. We get the details from reporter Cyrus Farivar.

CYRUS FARIVAR: Today's speech came at the end of an extensive Cyberspace Policy Review ordered by President Obama. It recommended the creation of a new White House Office of Cyber Security, which Mr. Obama said will be headed by a yet-to-be-named high-level official.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Today, I want to focus on the important responsibilities this office will fulfill, orchestrating and integrating all cyber security policies for the government, working closely with the office of management and budget to ensure agency budgets reflect those priorities.

FARIVAR: For years, the US government has had a very disparate approach to dealing with cyber threats. That's in part because of the myriad kinds of attacks and targets. There's low-level identity theft and phishing, where average Americans are fooled into giving up personal information online. There's also been significant probing and hacking of online military databases and networks for sensitive information. President Obama said his own presidential campaign was the victim of hacking and cyber-espionage in the run up to the election. The various levels of threat require a coordinated approach, according to the President.

OBAMA: No single official oversees cyber security policy across the federal government. No single agency has the responsibility or authority to match the scope and scale of the challenge. Indeed, when it comes to cyber security, federal agencies have overlapping missions and don't coordinate and communicate nearly as well as they should with each other or with the private sector.

FARIVAR: Experts say that there wasn't a lot in the President's speech today that hasn't been said before. President Bush had a cyber security advisor during his term in office. That's not the point, says Sami Sayjari. He's the CEO of the Cyber Defense Agency, a consulting firm that works with the Department of Defense.

SAMI SAYJARI: But what I think is landmark about this is that the President of the United States called our data networks a national strategic asset and the defense of them a national strategic priority. What's new here is that it's out of the President's mouth that this is a national priority. That is a major shift from the previous administration.

FARIVAR: The President didn't get into specifics. He didn't say when a White House cyber czar would be appointed nor how much money would be allocated to the czar's office. But the presidential spotlight should help improve the country's cyber-security, says Larry Rohrbough of the TRUST Science and Technology Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

LARRY ROHRBOUGH: I think the details about exactly how that will be improved are to be determined but it is good to see that this person will have a broad mandate to look across the government to raise the level � not only the level of awareness but the level of protection and security of government systems.

FARIVAR: Raising awareness may not be enough. Sami Sayjari says the White House cyber security operation needs to have teeth to be truly effective.

SAYJARI: You really have to have budgetary authority and directive authority over these agencies to accomplish the task. And coordination just will not be sufficient.

FARIVAR: Though he was vague on the details today, President Obama did acknowledge that cyber security is now a national security concern for the country, and will be given high priority by his administration. For The World, I'm Cyrus Farivar.