WASHINGTON – In a speech from the White House East Room, President Obama Friday declared the country’s computer and digital networks a “strategic national asset” and said he would personally select a cybersecurity coordinator to spearhead the effort to protect them.
“We’re not as prepared as we should be, as a government or as a country,” he said, in an effort to bring to the nation’s attention what he termed one of the most serious economic and military dangers threatening the country.
He laid out the threat, noting that in the last two years alone, cyber thieves have cost Americans more than $8 billion and that last year worldwide they stole data worth up to $1 trillion. He described how even his own presidential campaign network had been compromised last fall, with hackers gaining access to policy position papers and travel plans.
In a serious attack on the military network last year, he said, several thousand computers were infected by malware.
“Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority,” he said. “We will ensure that these networks are secure, trustworthy and resilient. We will deter, prevent and … defend against attacks and recover quickly from any disruptions or damage.”
The new cyber czar, who he has not yet chosen, will be a member of the National Security Council and National Economic Council. He or she will head a new White House cyber office that will work closely with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure agency budgets reflect cybersecurity policies, he said, and in the event of a major cyber attack, coordinate the government’s response.
The office will include an official dedicated to protecting privacy and civil liberties, Obama said.
In an attempt to assuage concerns about government monitoring of Americans’ e-mails and phone calls, he stressed that the new effort would not include “monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic.”
The announcement coincided with the release of a 38-page report that outlines a broad strategy to strengthen cybersecurity. The report is intended as a roadmap with substantive policies to be worked out later.