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Obama's Cybersecurity Mandate a Bold First Step

President Obama's promise to take the lead in shoring up the government's cybersecurity efforts has drawn high praise from all corners of the tech world.

Members of Congress, industry groups and activist organizations have heralded his announcement this morning and the report that accompanied it as a mighty step forward in a long-neglected and critically important area of national security.

But, emphatic as Obama's speech was, many questions were left unanswered.

He pledged to recenter government cybersecurity in the White House, creating a position that amounts to a cyber czar to coordinate the activities among the different agencies.

But he made no mention of resolving the long-running turf wars between the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the Defense Department and myriad other agencies that all have a hand in protecting the nation's communications and information networks. To be fair, many in Washington have pointed to a recent thaw in relations between some of those agencies, but good-faith cooperation remains a work in progress.

Obama suggested that the cybersecurity coordinator, which has yet to receive a formal title, would have broad oversight over the various agencies, describing the role as something of a bridge-builder.

Obama did not name an individual to fill the position, though he did say the role will have the twin functions of serving on the president's National Security Council and National Economic Council.

"I think it is light on specifics," said Phil Dunkelberger, CEO of the security firm PGP and chairman of TechAmerica's Cybersecurity Advisory Group, an industry coalition.

Formulating a coherent national cybersecurity strategy

The review released today, the product of a two-month review Obama commissioned in February, is only a starting point. Obama said that one of the next priorities is to formulate a coherent national cybersecurity strategy, complete with "clear milestones and performances metrics," eventually.

"Until he gets someone in that job, the specifics are going to have to wait," Dunkelberger told InternetNews.com. "I think what people are coming to realize is this is a massive undertaking."

Dunkelberger praised Obama for tying cybersecurity to the economy, a coupling evident both in the twin hats the cyber czar will wear and the recommendations of the report.

Next page: Why Cybersecurity is a mainstream issue