President Barack Obama signed an executive order today on cyber security that aims to ward off digital threats that imperil both the economy and national security.
The order calls for companies to set up hubs to share information within the private sector and between government and the private sector. It also emphasizes protection of privacy and civil liberties, a concern that has arisen when government has access to individuals' online information. Obama signed the order during an appearance at the White House Summit on Cyber Security and Consumer Protection at Stanford University.
Neither government nor the private sector can deal with cyber threats alone, Obama said. "There's only one way to defend America [from] these cyber threats, and that's through government and industry working together, sharing appropriate information as true partners."
"We have to make cyberspace safer. We have to improve cooperation across the board" in America and internationally, he said, noting that the issue is neither a Democratic nor Republican one as everyone is vulnerable. Cyber security has been a major concern, particularly in the wake of the recent cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.
Before Obama's speech, White House counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco noted that she increasingly is bringing the president bad news about cyber threats, which are becoming "more diverse, more sophisticated, and more dangerous." She expressed support for increased partnerships between the government and private sector, saying that attacks like the Sony situation "could become the norm," although there is a plan to address these threats. Monaco also called for replacing passwords with more secure technology.
Jeff Zients, director of the president's economic council, said that nine out of ten Americans believe they have lost control over their personal data, which could have them losing faith in the digital economy. "We can't let that happen," he said, urging more investments in cyber security and calling out to Congress to put forward legislation as well, stressing the issue was not a partisan one. "To legislators on the Hill, the ball is in Congress's court, Let's get this done."
The summit focused on public-private collaboration on cyber security as well as improving practices at consumer-oriented businesses and organizations. Officials from both the government and the private sector -- including executives from American Express, Bank of America, and Kaiser Permanente -- appeared onstage.
"Over the past year, there has been a surge in cyber security incidents against high-profile consumer retail, banking, health care, and utility companies," a White House statement issued on the event said. "Combined with persistent and growing cyber threats against government entities, we must continue expanding and enhancing public-private cooperation to further safeguard consumers and to better protect our economic and national security."
But the potential clash between privacy and security also was noted at the event.
In January, Obama unveiled proposals intended to protect citizens from identity theft and ensure privacy, including measures protecting children from digital marketing. "Shortly after after I took office, I declared that cyber threats pose an enormous challenge for our country. It's one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation," Obama said last month, citing the Sony attack.
During his brief appearance at the event, Apple CEO Tim Cook cited the importance of privacy. "If those of us in positions of responsibility fail to do everything in our power to protect the right of privacy, we risk something far more valuable than money. We risk our way of life." Technology, though offers tools to avoid these risks, he said.