Obama To Pick Cybersecurity Czar

President Obama announced Friday he will be appointing a new adviser for cybersecurity. The president said protecting computer networks is one of the nation's most serious economic and national security challenges. Obama also said the nation has not been prepared enough to face the cyber threat.

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President Obama said today he will soon be appointing an adviser on cybersecurity. Mr. Obama spoke as the White House released a review of the nation's cybersecurity efforts and found them wanting. NPR's Brian Naylor has our story.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The president spoke in the East Room to an audience of cabinet members, government officials and corporate executives. He recited a litany of penetrations of government and private computers by hackers, criminals and possibly foreign agents. Military computers infected by viruses, individuals who had their identities stolen, even the computers of Mr. Obama's own campaign last summer.

President BARACK OBAMA: It was a powerful reminder, in this information age, one of your greatest strengths - in our case, our ability to communicate to a wide range of supporters through the Internet - could also be one of your greatest vulnerabilities.

NAYLOR: The president said with so much at stake, the status quo was no longer acceptable. He said his administration will pursue a new comprehensive approach to secure the nation's digital infrastructure.

Pres. OBAMA: This new approach starts at the top with this commitment from me. From now on, our digital infrastructure, the networks and computers we depend on every day, will be treated as they should be as a strategic national asset. Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority.

NAYLOR: The president intends to appoint a cybersecurity adviser who will be a part of the staffs of both the National Security Council and the National Economic Council. That's raised questions about the ultimate clout of the new post. But the president said the adviser will have regular access to him. He said there would be a national campaign to promote cybersecurity and digital literacy. He also addressed privacy concerns.

Pres. OBAMA: Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not include, I repeat, will not include monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality, so we can keep the Internet as it should be - open and free.

NAYLOR: Stewart Baker, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security says there is the potential for bureaucratic infighting with the structure the president has outlined for the new post. But he thinks the approach may work.

Mr. STEWART BAKER (Former Assistant Secretary, Department of Homeland Security): He's certainly taken ownership of the problem. He's made it clear. He thinks it's a very serious one and that it's going to be solved with White House leadership. And when you do that as president, it galvanizes your staff to want to find solutions, as opposed to engage in trench warfare.

NAYLOR: And industry groups applaud the president's attention to the private sector. Phil Dunkelberger attended the speech. He is CEO of PGP Corporation, which makes data security systems.

Mr. PHILLIP DUNKELBERGER (CEO, PGP Corporation): He has a very cognitive understanding of what the problem is and it's a broad problem. And the linkage that he put together to the economy, that you really can't run a robust economy without systems being secure. And I think that's one of the first times I've heard a public official get up and talk about the linkage between security and the economy.

NAYLOR: Mr. Obama promised to no quick fixes to the cybersecurity challenges, saying it would be a long difficult struggle, demanding patience and persistence over many years.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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