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Obama Eyes Cybersecurity Strategy

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Obama Eyes Cybersecurity Strategy


Obama Eyes Cybersecurity Strategy

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President Obama plans to provide some answers of his own today about how to better protect the nation's computer networks. He'll be releasing a widely anticipated review of the nation's cybersecurity. Military and intelligence leaders say protecting computer networks from hackers, spies and terrorists is one of the nation's top national security problems. And we have more this morning from NPR'S Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Foreign governments stealing U.S. military secrets. Foreign companies stealing advanced technology and intellectual property from American firms. It happens every day, says James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

Mr. JAMES LEWIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies): They're not mom-and-pop operations. They're not little kids. These are the spies of the 21st century, and they've been very successful.

NAYLOR: Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas, who contributed to a recent CSIS cybersecurity report, says the problem reaches across government. We reached him on his cell phone.

Representative MICHAEL MCCAUL (Republican, Texas): We know that last year alone, almost every federal agency had been penetrated, and massive amounts of data were stolen from our federal government.

NAYLOR: The Pentagon, NASA and air traffic networks were among those targeted. Lewis says the nation's power grid is particularly vulnerable. He points to a blackout six years ago that while not caused by terrorists was still disruptive.

Rep. MCCAUL: You know, everyone remembers the 2003 blackout in the Northeast. It's likely that three or four countries have the capability to do that kind of thing again.

NAYLOR: The president today is expected to lay out a strategy for protecting the nation's computer networks. It starts with a cybersecurity adviser who will report to him as part of the National Security Council within the White House.

The president's economic advisers are also expected to have a role. Rod Beckstrom says the bureaucratic structure is important. Beckstrom recently resigned from his position as director of cybersecurity in the Department of Homeland Security. He's wary of giving the NSC and the military primacy over the civilian side.

Mr. ROD BECKSTROM (Former Director of Cybersecurity): The commercial sector is the primary user of the Internet, and we as citizens, and the National Security Council doesn't in general represent that perspective as well as a group like the Council of Economic Advisers might, that are very attuned to the economy and business.

NAYLOR: Privacy advocates, meanwhile, are worried that aggressive government efforts to secure the Internet and other computer networks could trample privacy and civil liberties. Gregory Nojeim is with the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Mr. GREGORY NOJEIM (Center for Democracy and Technology): Unlimited government access to private communications would chill those communications.

NAYLOR: Nojeim praises the Obama administration for listening to privacy concerns.

Unlike many government problems, this one does not seem to require massive amounts of money. Instead, advocates say, it's about better coordinating existing government efforts.

Rod Beckstrom says one key component is making the Internet more secure.

Mr. BECKSTROM: And that is the best investment we can make, and it's been almost entirely ignored by our federal government. And we might see something in this report to move a little bit in that direction. We need to go a lot farther.

NAYLOR: And cybersecurity analysts say today's review cannot be the end but only the start of the Obama administration's attention to the problem.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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