President Obama today revealed that hackers had gained access to confidential files during his presidential campaign and promised to create a new office dedicated to tackling digital threats, headed by a Cybersecurity Coordinator.
"It's no secret that my presidential campaign harnessed the Internet and technology to transform our politics," he said at a White House briefing.
"What isn't widely known is that during the general election hackers managed to penetrate our computer systems. Between August and October, hackers gained access to emails and a range of campaign files, from policy position papers to travel plans."
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He also said that other cyber intruders had "probed our electrical grid" and infected military machines with malware, noting that, "in today's world, acts of terror could come not only from a few extremists in suicide vests but from a few key strokes on the computer - a weapon of mass disruption."
President Obama acknowledged that "we're not as prepared as we should be, as a government or as a country. Just as we failed in the past to invest in our physical infrastructure - our roads, our bridges and rails - we've failed to invest in the security of our digital infrastructure."
The solution, he said, was to make protecting the infrastructure a national security priority. "We will ensure that these networks are secure, trustworthy and resilient. We will deter, prevent, detect, and defend against attacks and recover quickly from any disruptions or damage."
He then announced the creation of a new White House, controlled by a new Cybersecurity Coordinator who he would choose personally. The individual would orchestrate and integrate cybersecurity policies for the government and, in the event of major cyber incident or attack, coordinate its response.
The President specifically addressed privacy and access concerns, stating that "this office will include an official with a portfolio specifically dedicated to safeguarding the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be - open and free."
He also specified actions to be taken by the government in five areas: cybersecurity will be given clear milestones and metrics; it will work with key players, including the private sector, to ensure an organised and unified response to future incidents; it will collaborate with industry to find technology solutions to seucrity problems; cutting-edge research and development will continue to attract funding; and the government will begin a national campaign to promote cybersecurity awareness and digital literacy from "our boardrooms to our classrooms".