Arik Hesseldahl

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Obama’s Cybersecurity Order Aims for a Restart With Congress

A first step. That’s how President Obama’s executive order concerning “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity” is being widely described today.

As expected, the order creates a government working group that will reach out to the private sector to put in place some voluntary standards for companies deemed to be running critical infrastructure — banks, utilities, transportation companies and the like.

The president also addressed some of the concerns in his State of the Union address last night, saying, “We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air-traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.”

Industry generally opposes the creation of standards, even voluntary ones, arguing that they tend to become de facto requirements. And there’s almost no point in following them if you can’t get any protection from civil liability if you do. That’s something that can only come from Congress, and the last time it passed legislation on this subject, Obama vetoed it. That bill did contain liability protection provision, but the Administration argued that it didn’t go far enough to protect things like personal data that might be shared between companies fending off an attack.

What the order really amounts to is a starting gun on the renewed push by the White House to get a new cybersecurity bill (I’m already really sick of that word) through Congress this year. Over the summer, the president outlined his concerns in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

One thing that is happening: Companies in the information security space are seeing their share prices rise today, in part on assumptions that digital securities concerns topping the national agenda could mean new business in the coming year. Shares of Symantec opened higher in early trading, as did shares of Intel, which owns software security company McAfee. Checkpoint Software also rose.

Shares of a few companies are falling: Palo Alto Networks fell by more than 1.5 percent, while Sourcefire, which rose by more than 7 percent yesterday going into Obama’s speech and in anticipation of the order, settled down by more than 1 percent.

Here’s Obama’s executive order in full, as posted to Scribd:

President Obama's Cybersecurity Executive Order, Feb. 12 2013 by Arik Hesseldahl

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work