Obama to issue cybersecurity executive order this month

Order will create voluntary security standards to protect critical infrastructure from cybercriminals, Sen. Carper says

President Barack Obama is expected to issue a cybersecurity executive order in the days after his Feb. 12 State of the Union address.

The long-expected executive order will create a voluntary program that will call for companies in critical infrastructure industries to agree to adopt a minimum set of security standards created by the government, according to a published report. [Ed note: This statement was previously attributed -- incorrectly -- to a spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). We regret the error.]

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) expects that the order will be issued before the end of February, based on signals he has received from the White House, said Emily Spain, a spokeswoman for Carper.

The imminent issuing of the order was first reported by The Hill, a Washington-based newspaper that focuses on covering Congress.

Once the order is released, Carper said he will solicit feedback about it when his committee holds a joint hearing on cybersecurity with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Carper and other committee members will also invite officials from the Obama administration to explain the executive order.

The Obama executive order has been in the works since at least last August.

Administration officials have said it will be designed to help government agencies and critical infrastructure companies implement improved controls to protect computer networks against potential cyberattacks.

Obama's Homeland Security adviser, John Brennan (who was nominated by Obama to head the CIA), said last year that the administration was planning an executive order because Congress has long failed to pass comprehensive cybersecurity legislation.

The White House had backed the Cybersecurity Act, a failed proposal to bolster critical infrastructure security by enabling improved sharing of threat information between government agencies and private companies.

The bill, which stalled in Senate over Republican concerns that it was too prescriptive and vested too much enforcement authority with the Department of Homeland Security, called for the creation of an inter-agency council to work with critical infrastructure owners to develop voluntary cybersecurity standards.

The bill also called for some government agencies to submit to an annual security certification process, and offered liability protection for private companies that are voluntarily certified each year.

An alternative Republican-backed bill, called SECURE-IT, failed to get much support among Democrats and failed as well.

The fate of the two bills was identical to numerous other cybersecurity bills proposed by various lawmakers from both parties in both the House and the Senate over the past few years.

Obama's plan to issue a cybersecurity order elicited predictable responses from both parties.

Democratic lawmakers urged the president to use his full authority to protect critical networks against cyberthreats in the face of Congress's failure to pass legislation. Republicans, meanwhile, have indicated that they prefer legislation passed by Congress to a presidential executive order.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His email address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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