On grounds that America's 21st century economic prosperity depends on them, President Barack Obama announced plans to protect the country's computer networks from cyber attacks.
The Obama Administration is developing a cyber security office in the White House; the President said he would personally name a "cyber tsar" to oversee it.
In the past two years, cyber crime cost the country over $8 billion; worldwide, intellectual property stolen from businesses were estimated to be worth up to $1 trillion. According to the Pentagon, 2007 alone suffered nearly 44,000 incidents of malevolent cyber activity orchestrated by hackers, intelligence agencies and foreign militia — a major vulnerability for a country increasingly dependent on its computer networks.
According to Obama, terrorism is not merely the domain of "a few extremists in suicide vests"; it can also be arranged with "a few key strokes of a computer - a weapon of mass disruption." He added that al-Qaeda and other groups have menaced Americans with promises of computer warfare in the past, and that the US has thus far failed to adequately invest in digital infrastructure — a "national security priority."
The Administration's cyber security department is expected to cost some billions of dollars to implement. Its objective, among others, will be to restrict access to government computers and protect major systems, such as those that operate the stock exchange, and air traffic control, according to the BBC.
But the President also stated intentions to protect ordinary citizens, including the "millions […] victimised: their privacy violated, their identities stolen, their lives upended, and their wallets emptied," he said.
A national cybersecurity education program will also be formed, and the US will make ongoing investments in cybersecurity research and development.
The announcement, made Friday, won praise from members of the tech and digital security industries.
"A lot of the things that were discussed [Friday] morning have been said before, but it is a very big deal when the president says them," said President Larry Clinton of the Internet Security Alliance (via PC World).
"The fact that this is elevated to the presidential level … that is a big deal."
In tandem with the announcement, the Obama Administration released a short review (pdf) of the government's intended cybersecurity efforts.