President Barack Obama on Monday ordered a 60-day review of the nation's cybersecurity to examine how federal agencies use technology to protect secrets and data.
Obama said former Bush administration aide Melissa Hathaway will head the effort to examine all the government plans, programs and activities under way to manage massive amounts of data — everything from passport application to tax records, personal tax returns to national security documents. A failure or attack on that infrastructure could harm the country by, for example, shutting down the nation's airlines or crashing the stock market.
"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," said John Brennan, Obama's top adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security. "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."
Obama — as a candidate — was critical of President George W. Bush's efforts to protect this information. He compared cyber threats to nuclear or biological attacks on the country and pledged a cybersecurity adviser who would report directly to him.
Between his election and inauguration, Obama tasked aides with looking at the proposal. Some advised him to keep his pledge for a czar, while others advocated it go to the Homeland Security Department.
A senior administration official said the president remains committed to cybersecurity, but the official could not say if the cyber czar would be a permanent position after the 60-day review. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Hathaway will carry the title of acting senior director for cyberspace in both the national security and homeland security councils. She led Bush's Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, which cost the government about $6 billion this budget year, and has a reputation as a leading expert on cybersecurity issues.
Her review of all government programs to address cybersecurity will include an inventory of what was already being done and recommendations on how it can improve, the official said.
The White House also has briefed members of the House and Senate intelligence committees about the move.