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Obama Calls for Cybersecurity Review

Government and cybersecurity

On the heels of a number of high-profile data leaks, President Obama has ordered an immediate two-month review of the federal government's various cybersecurity programs -- a move that could set the stage for a shakeup of the nation's sprawling network security activities.

Heading the interagency review will be Melissa Hathaway, a former consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton who worked under the director of national intelligence in the Bush administration.

Hathaway will be tasked with coordinating with the relevant agencies, Congress and the private sector to evaluate how the government's cybersecurity initiatives are being managed, and develop a framework to streamline the far-flung operations.

"The national security and economic health of the United States depend on the security, stability, and integrity of our nation's cyberspace, both in the public and private sectors," John Brennan, Obama's assistant for counterterrorism and homeland security, said in a statement. "The president is confident that we can protect our nation's critical cyber infrastructure while at the same time adhering to the rule of law and safeguarding privacy rights and civil liberties."

The review could lay the groundwork for a substantial overhaul of the government's cybersecurity activities, which have been spread across numerous agencies and come under fire for repeated breaches and data leaks in government systems.

As part of his homeland-security agenda, Obama has said he plans to create a position of national cyber adviser, who would report to the president and work with the agencies to develop a coordinated cyber-security policy.

The 60-day interagency review could be Hathaway's job tryout for that position, observers said.

"She's really well-qualified for this," said James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank. "She was one of the two or three people who pushed cybersecurity in the Bush administration."

Lewis directed a project called the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th President, which culminated in a detailed list of policy recommendations released in December and presented to the Obama transition team.

Chief among those recommendations were a consolidation of the agencies dealing with cybersecurity, greater investment in security research, and a concerted effort to shore up the defenses for the nation's infrastructure against cyber threats.

Despite following some of the CSIS recommendations, the jury may still be out on whether the new moves will go far enough. Lewis and CSIS had hoped that an Obama-backed economic stimulus bill would have included provisions about cybersecurity. So far, dedicated cybersecurity spending has yet to materialize.

"It's a little disappointing to see the stimulus package doesn't say anything about making the infrastructure more secure," Lewis told InternetNews.com.

[cob:Special_Report]The economic stimulus bill currently under debate in Congress would allocate billions of dollars to a so-called smart grid, which would introduce Internet-like capabilities to the nation's power system. But without the proper defenses against cyber threats, the nation could pay a big price for the efficiency improvements a smart grid promises.

"If we build an electrical grid and don't pay any attention to cybersecurity, it's going to be a huge error," Lewis said.

Still, Lewis said that the formation of review committee could be a good down payment on a more thorough revamping of the national cybersecurity regime.

"It says it will do one of the things that we thought was crucial -- which is come up with a strategy," Lewis said. "If they come out with a good strategy that really looks at the whole issue and not a part of it, we'll be better off."

Obama could wait until the review has concluded before he names his national cyber adviser. In addition to Hathaway, he is rumored to be considering candidates from the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency, as well as advisers from his campaign. No one from the private sector or the Homeland Security is believed to be on the short list.