Obama considers ordering industry to improve cyber defences


Obama considers ordering industry to improve cyber defences

Warwick Ashford

The White House has announced that US President Barack Obama is considering issuing orders compelling or encouraging private companies in critical industries to improve their cyber defences.

The announcement comes a week after Congress failed to pass legislation requiring companies to meet minimum cyber security standards to protect their computer networks from attack.

"One of the things that we have to do in the executive branch is to see what we can do to maybe put additional ... guidelines or policy in place under executive branch authorities," said White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan.

"If the Congress is not going to act on something like this, then the president is going to do everything possible," he told the US Council on Foreign Relations, according to reports.

The move comes amid escalating US concerns about the theft of high-tech data from US companies and the threat that cyber attacks could shut down elements of the critical national infrastructure such as water and power plants.

Like the UK, a large proportion of the US critical infrastructure, which includes financial networks, transportation systems and chemical plants, are owned and operated by the private sector.

Despite these concerns, business lobbyist last week managed to stall cyber defence standards legislation in the Senate, even after mandates were replaced with a call for voluntary participation.

The revised bill offered incentives, such as liability protection and technical assistance, to businesses that voluntarily participated in a government-managed computer security program.

Brennan said the White House was looking at possible additional guidelines or changes in policy, but he did not indicate whether such measures would be mandatory or not.

In recent months, top US officials have escalated warnings about the serious cyber threat the US is facing, and the fact that it will only get worse.

In July, the head of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Cyber Command, General Keith Alexander, said there was a 17-fold increase in computer attacks on US infrastructure between 2009 and 2011, initiated by criminal gangs, hackers and other nations.

A growing number of foreign cyber attacks were aimed at “critical infrastructure”, he said, and the US remained unprepared to ward off a major attack.

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