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Obama's cybersecurity plan gets cautious praise

The challenge will be to get various interests working together

May 29, 2009 04:45 PM ET

Computerworld - President Obama's plan for securing cyberspace and his creation of a new White House cybersecurity coordinator are being greeted with cautious optimism within the security industry.

Many see the strategy as a sign of the administration's willingness to recognize cyber threats as a national security issue. But until details are fleshed out, it's hard to know just how far it will go in bolstering the nation's ability to deal with cyber attacks, they said.

At a White House briefing, Obama described a five-pronged cybersecurity strategy for defending government, military and private sector networks against threats from what he said is a growing number of bad actors. He noted that the new cybersecurity coordinator will be responsible for pulling together a national strategy for securing American interests in cyberspace and stressed that the government would safeguard privacy concerns. (The new office will include a privacy officer.)

Obama's proposals had been widely expected and are based on the recommendations from a government-wide review of cybersecurity undertaken at his behest by Melissa Hathaway, a former Bush administration aide who he appointed as acting senior director for cyberspace earlier this year.

"I was encouraged see that the [Hathaway] report got presidential support today -- that's critical to the success of any program," said Patricia Titus, the one-time chief information security officer at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who now holds a similar job at Unisys Corp.

The challenge for the Obama Administration is to actually implement the proposals in a meaningful way, Titus said. A lot will depend on the relationships the new cybersecurity coordinator can build and the kind of influence he or she can exert across government and the private sector, she said.

While centralizing authority for cybersecurity matters in the White House can have benefits, care needs to be taken to maintain a balance of power, she said. "We need to make sure that no one is pushing the red panic button without making sure there are other individuals in the decision-making process and at the appropriate levels to get input from," she said.

Obama did a "great job" of summarizing the cybersecurity threats the nation faces and the approach that's needed to resolve them, said Scott Charbo, former deputy undersecretary of the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Especially encouraging is the president's focus on setting specific milestones and on ensuring accountability within government, said Charbo, who is currently director of cybersecurity at Accenture. Obama's apparent plan to give the new cybersecurity coordinator a greater say in ensuring that federal agencies are investing adequate resources on cybersecurity is also a very positive step, he said. But successfully moving forward on a White House-led cybersecurity effort will require a "cultural transformation" by government agencies.

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