US CYBERSECURITY PLAN AIMS AT CHINA

Fox News on February 12, 2013, published an AP report on President Barack Obama signing an executive order Tuesday aimed at helping protect the computer networks of crucial American industries from cyberattacks and prodded Congress to enact legislation that would go even further. Excerpts below:

Senior administration officials said Obama’s order calls for the development of voluntary standards to protect the computer systems that run critical sectors of the economy like the banking, power and transportation industries. It also directs U.S. defense and intelligence agencies to share classified threat data with those companies.

The president said America’s enemies are “seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.”

Obama’s executive order has been months in the making and is the product of often difficult negotiations with private sector companies that oppose any increased government regulation.

While largely symbolic, the plan leaves practical questions unanswered: Should a business be required to tell the government if it’s been hacked and U.S. interests are at stake? Can you sue your bank or water treatment facility if those companies don’t take reasonable steps to protect you? And if a private company’s systems are breached, should the government swoop in to stop the attacks — and pick up the tab?

Under the president’s new order, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a year to finalize a package of voluntary standards and procedures that will help companies address their cybersecurity risks.

Officials will also come up with incentives the government can use to encourage companies to meet the standards, and the Pentagon will have four months to recommend whether cybersecurity standards should be considered when the department makes contracting decisions.

Congress has been struggling for more than three years to reach a consensus on cybersecurity legislation.

The cyberthreat to the U.S. has been heavily debated since the 1990s, when much of American commerce shifted online and critical systems began to rely increasingly on networked computers. Security experts began to warn of looming disaster, including threats that terrorists could cut off a city’s water supply or shut down electricity. But what’s emerged in recent years, according to cyber experts, is the constant pilfering of America’s intellectual property by U.S. competitors.

The U.S. has been preparing a new intelligence estimate that details cyber espionage as a growing economic problem. One official told The Associated Press last week that the estimate was expected to cite more directly a role by the Chinese government and favor aggressive action against the Chinese government. The official was not authorized to discuss the classified report and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The report is expected to expand on a November 2011 report by U.S. intelligence agencies that accused Russia and China of systematically stealing American high-tech data for their own economic gain. China has denied the claims.

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