Obama Discusses Computer Security With Corporate Chiefs

President Obama met with an invited group of 13 chief executives at the White House on Wednesday to discuss growing concerns about cybersecurity and enlist them to get behind his proposed legislation to combat the threat of computer warfare and corporate espionage.
Among those present were Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil, Randall Stephenson of AT&T, Wesley Bush of Northrop Grumman, Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, which had been attacked by foreign hackers as recently as Tuesday.
White House officials said the meeting in the White House Situation Room was designed as a “two-way” information exchange. Aides said Mr. Obama wanted to hear directly from industry leaders about how vulnerable their companies were to computer attacks. The president also wanted to discuss efforts the government is taking to address threats.
“He has seen as various corporations and business leaders have gone public with their concerns about cybersecurity and the effects of breaches of cybersecurity on their operations,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.
In recent weeks, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have all stepped forward to say that their computer systems had been attacked. And since September, online banking sites of several American banks have been intermittently pulled offline by attacks that officials say originated in Iran.
But the president is also looking to drum up public support as he makes a renewed push for legislation that would give the administration new technological tools and broader authority in the battle against computer attacks by foreign governments. The president’s previous bill was killed by a Republican filibuster last year after intensive lobbying by the United States Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, which argued that the legislation would prove onerous.
“He also wants to convey to them how seriously he takes this issue and what he believes the right steps are moving forward,” Mr. Carney said. “And he certainly hopes that out of this meeting and the many others he has on this topic, that we will build the kind of consensus necessary to compel Congress to take appropriate action.”
The meeting Wednesday, which also included chief executives from American Electric Power, Xerox, Marathon Oil, Honeywell, United Parcel Service, ITT Exelis, Siemens and Frontier Communications, was just the latest step in the administration’s campaign to persuade Congress to pass a computer security bill.
In recent months, several senior administration officials — including Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security; Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — have provided closed-door briefings to members of Congress about the threat.
As a stopgap measure, the president signed an executive order last month that promotes increased the sharing of information between the government and private companies.
The president has also been making his case directly to the public in speeches and media appearances in recent months. In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Obama spent more time on the topic of computer attacks than he did on North Korea and Iran combined.
In an interview on ABC News broadcast on Wednesday, Mr. Obama was careful to avoid saying that the United States is engaged in a computer war with China. He said officials need to “be careful with war analogies” in discussions about the topics.
But the president said that billions of dollars are lost when industrial secrets are stolen online. And he said that some of the attacks on the nation’s private and public computer networks are sponsored by foreign governments.
“Our companies are put into competitive disadvantage. You know, there are disruptions to our systems that, you know, involve everything from our financial systems to some of our infrastructure,” Mr. Obama said. “And this is why I’ve taken some very aggressive executive actions. But we need Congress to act.”
He said that the government is limited in what it can do to confront China and other sponsors of computer attacks. And he said the government needs the authority to require that critical infrastructure in the country is hardened against such attacks.
“There are ways that we can harden our critical infrastructure, our financial sector,” Mr. Obama said. “And the only thing that’s holding us back from doing that right now is we haven’t gotten the legislative authority out of Congress. They need to get this done.”

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and NICOLE PERLROTH
Source:
http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/obama-discusses-computer-security-with-corporate-chiefs/

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