Cybersecurity more of a priority in Obama budget

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama proposed on Wednesday increased spending to protect U.S. computer networks from Internet-based attacks in a sign that the government aims to put more resources into the emerging global cyber arms race.

Obama's budget proposal for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, calls for more military "hackers" to head off escalating cyber threats from China, Iran, Russia and other countries. It would also bolster defenses for government and private-sector computer networks.

Intelligence officials said last month that cyber attacks and espionage have supplanted terrorism as the top security threat facing the United States, and military officials sounded the alarm as well.

"Lock your doors," Air Force General Robert Kelher told space and cyber industry executives at a conference in Colorado on Tuesday night. "Someone from halfway around the world is trying to get into your network looking to steal what you are developing."

The administration is making cybersecurity a priority at a time when it is cutting back or holding the line on spending across wide swaths of the government.

Obama's budget, released on Wednesday, proposes to boost Defense Department spending on cyber efforts to $4.7 billion, $800 million more than current levels, even as it plans to cut the Pentagon's overall spending by $3.9 billion.

The Pentagon said it plans to expand its Cyber Command, a team of military hackers conducting what it calls "reconnaissance, surveillance, development, maintenance and analysis." The Pentagon also said it would expand efforts to protect its own computer networks.

Under the budget proposal, the Department of Homeland Security would spend $44 million more on a government-wide information-sharing effort even as its overall budget would shrink by $615 million, or 1.5 percent. The department also would fund more cybersecurity research and help private businesses and local governments bolster their online defenses.

Much of the cybersecurity spending is contained in classified reaches of the government that do not make their budgets public, making quantifying the overall proposed increase sought by the president impossible.

"The budget includes increases and improvements to a full range of cyberspace activities," the Obama administration said about its classified activities.