Obama Seeks Enhanced Cybersecurity Laws to Fight Hackers

Obama has elevated cybersecurity to the top of 2015 agenda, seeing it as area where cooperation is possible with Republican-led Congress.

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Obama, joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif.,, left, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, speaks to the media at the White House. Jan. 13, 2015.
Obama, joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif.,, left, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, speaks to the media at the White House. Jan. 13, 2015.Credit: AP

REUTERS - U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday will announce a renewed push to beef up U.S. cybersecurity laws after recent headline-grabbing hacks against companies like Sony Pictures and Home Depot.

Obama will throw his support behind efforts to give liability protection to companies that quickly share information about attacks, but will require strict protections for personal information, the White House said in a statement.

Obama also will propose new powers for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute cybercrime.

The White House will build momentum for the legislative move at a cybersecurity summit slated for February 13, an event that will take place not at the White House, but in Silicon Valley, at Stanford University.

Obama has elevated cybersecurity to the top of his 2015 agenda, seeing it as an area where cooperation is possible with the Republican-led Congress, and will send the legislation to Capitol Hill immediately.

Obama told reporters he has already discussed the issue with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"I think we agreed that this is an area where we can work hard together, get some legislation done and make sure that we are much more effective in protecting the American people from these kinds of cyberattacks," he said.

The government itself has not been immune from cyber problems. On Monday, social media accounts for the U.S. military command that oversees operations in the Middle East were hacked by people claiming to be allied with Islamic State militants.

"With the Sony attack that took place, with the Twitter account that was hacked by Islamist jihadist sympathizers yesterday, it just goes to show how much more work we need to do, both public and private sector, to strengthen our cyber security," Obama said.

Obama, who is previewing initiatives in his January 20 State of the Union address, will speak about his cyber proposals on Tuesday at the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity nerve center at 3:10 p.m. ET (2010 GMT).

Lawmakers have struggled to balance corporate concerns about liability with consumer fears about privacy, especially following the leak of information about government surveillance programs by former contractor Edward Snowden.

The White House first proposed cyber legislation in 2011. In the last Congress, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill, which the White House had threatened to veto because of concerns about the scope of privacy and liability measures.

The Democratic-led Senate failed to clear legislation. Lawmakers on both sides on the aisle in the new Congress, where Republicans now control the Senate, have expressed interest in trying again.

The legislation will include measures to assure civil liberty and privacy advocates that the data shared with the government and with other companies will be protected, the White House said.

Obama's proposal includes measures to allow for the prosecution of the sale of botnets, computer networks linked to cybercrime, and would give courts the power to shut down those responsible for distributed denial of service attacks.

Botnets are typically used to steal financial information, to relay spam messages and to conduct "denial-of-service" attacks against websites by having all the computers try to connect simultaneously.

Other measures would be aimed at deterring the sale of spyware and would make selling stolen credit card information overseas a crime, the White House said.
Obama also wants Congress to require companies to tell consumers within 30 days from the discovery of a data breach that their personal information has been compromised.

Some Republicans want Obama to step up financial sanctions on North Korea in response to the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, and to target financial institutions in Asia and elsewhere supporting the country.

Obama announced new sanctions on North Korea on January 2, but Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said the White House should go further.

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