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Obama Makes Cybersecurity a Priority

by Manuel Flores, published

President Barack Obama recently communicated his urge to have Congress pass the Cybersecurity Act of 2012.

In last week's Wall Street Journal Opinion the President echoed his belief that the nation's cyber defenses are at risk. Much of what he wrote was reminiscent of Len Wiseman's 2009 movie, Live Free or Die Hard, when a former a Department of Defense analyst shut down the nation in a matter of days. In reality, the US does not have Die Hard's hero John McClane to stop such a catastrophe.

President Obama details a hypothetical mass disaster that wrecked havoc on the nation's transportation and water systems:

"Across the country trains had derailed, including one carrying industrial chemicals that exploded into a toxic cloud. Water treatment plants in several states had shut down, contaminating drinking water and causing Americans to fall ill."

The remarks were inspired by the Black Hat 2012 Conference, designed to bring together leaders to define the future of information security, currently being held in Las Vegas this week. President Obama seeks to convince Congress to pass the revised bill.

Cyber warfare has recently emerged on the national conscience following incidents such as the famed Stuxnet virus in 2010, and the Israeli-US co-conspired Flame virus, both of which targeted Iranian nuclear facilities in attempt to slow down Iranian progress towards developing a nuclear weapon. Such incidents set forth the possibility of the United States facing retaliatory cyber attacks in the near future.

“We are going to try carrots instead of sticks as we begin to improve our cyber defenses,”Lieberman, said in an e-mail statement. “If that doesn’t work, a future Congress will undoubtedly come back and adopt a more coercive system.”

Recently the Iranian nuclear systems suffered another cyber attack. A researcher Mikko Hypponen at Finnish computer security firm, F-Secure, commented on his blog:

"According to the email our cyber experts sent to our teams, they believe a hacker tool Metasploit was used. The hackers had access to our VPN. The automation network and Siemens hardware were attacked and shut down. I only know very little about these cyber issues as I am scientist not a computer expert. There was also some music playing randomly on several of the workstations during the middle of the night with the volume maxed out. I believe it was playing 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC."

In the op-ed, President Obama reiterates the potential consequences of a successful cyber-attack which could cause a financial crisis if banks were hit. In another hypothetical scenario, hospitals and water treatment plant failures would cause widespread illness and power plants outages could bring entire regions to a standstill.

Another bill passed by the House in April, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), details similar legislation to the Cybersecurity Act. President Obama has expressed that he will veto any bill that lack strong privacy and civil-liberties protection, and as such, CISPA's future is none too bright.

Both bill will be heard by the Senate later this week.

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