Cybersecurity

Obama signs executive order for cybersecurity

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The White House and Congress both are expected to renew the fight against cyber attackers.

Editor's Note: During the State of the Union address, delivered several hours after this story was published, President Barack Obama announced he had signed the executive order earlier on Feb. 12. Read the order and the accompanying Presidential Policy Directive.

The White House is finally set to issue a long-awaited executive order that seeks to secure U.S. critical infrastructure against cyberattacks.

The order is expected to be discussed in a news briefing scheduled for the morning of Feb. 13 at the Commerce Department in Washington. Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, is slated to to discuss cyber policy alongside Michael Daniel, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator, and top officials from the Commerce, Justice and Homeland Security departments.

Among the likely provisions in the executive order will be voluntary cybersecurity standards and best practices created at least in part by the government for companies operating critical infrastructure, such as water and electric utilities.

It is also expected that the order will boost the role of DHS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology and accelerate collaboration between industry and government, according to one insider.

"NIST will likely be asked to develop a cybersecurity framework," said Harriet Pearson, a partner in Hogan Lovells’ privacy and information management practice. "A NIST cybersecurity framework would likely become an industry standard, but companies will be wary of check-the-box compliance efforts."

The move comes after Congress failed to pass a cybersecurity bill last fall; since then, officials have deemed the issue too important not to address.

Many federal leaders have also continued to urge Congress to tackle cyber legislation this year, noting that an executive order can only go so far.

It "can’t do a few things only legislation can do, such as liability protection for companies when they are sharing information,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in September. "An executive order will help, but we still need comprehensive cyber legislation."

Many hope the order will spur action on Capitol Hill. Already, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersburger (D-Md.), the committee's ranking member, plan to reintroduce the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act on Feb. 13, according to a statement from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. CISPA passed the House but then died last year.

It remains to be seen what type of cyber legislation will be brought forward this year, but the White House measure might help, as could mounting international pressures, Pearson said.

"The executive order on its own, depending on what it does, will help to organize the activities of the federal government and increase momentum because of the force it has to prompt government action," Pearson said. She also pointed out that the "European Commission last week proposed a sweeping cybersecurity directive, showing that the push for regulation in this area extends well beyond Washington."

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