US government courts Silicon Valley on cybersecurity

A summit in Silicon Valley hopes to promote better information sharing with private companies

american express ceo

American Express Chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault gestures during the White House summit on cybersecurity and consumer protection in Palo Alto, California, on Friday.

Credit: Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Senior U.S. government officials came to Silicon Valley on Friday to deliver a direct appeal to executives from major companies and the cybersecurity industry: Work with us so the nation will be better protected from cyberattacks.

The charm offensive, which includes a speech by President Obama, comes as a new government agency is being formed to oversee preventive and reactive response to cyberattacks. The U.S. Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center is part of the government's response to the growing number of cyberattacks on large corporations, such as Target and Sony Pictures, but the cooperation of industry is not guaranteed.

Lisa Monaco, a senior adviser to President Obama on homeland security and counterterrorism, said she worried that the type of cyberattack that targeted Sony could become the norm in the future if more isn't done.

"The cyberthreat is becoming more diverse, it's becoming more sophisticated and more dangerous," she said. "So that's why we are here. We are at a transformational moment in the evolution of the cyberthreat."

Monaco's remarks came a few of hours before Obama is expected to sign an executive order aimed at improving information sharing with the private sector.

But the order can only go so far and the government needs the goodwill of U.S. companies to contribute information on cyberattacks and breaches.

Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, spoke on-stage with Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, and said companies are looking for liability protection before they divulge information on cyberattacks and breaches to the government.

Goodwill has been in short supply at some major Internet companies in the wake of the recent revelations on NSA spying.

Perhaps as a result, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, all declined invitations to attend and instead sent deputies, according to Bloomberg News.

One prominent Silicon Valley CEO will be speaking: Apple's Tim Cook is scheduled to speak later Friday before President Obama takes the stage.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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