Obama’s Cyber Security Initiative: 5 Things You Need to Know

February 13, 2015

8:30 pm

President Obama signed an executive order, urging tech companies to share information that could be threatening to the nation’s cyber security with the government. The order was signed during the first White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection at Stanford University.

Since last year’s hack on Sony, Obama has been outspoken about creating a framework to protect the country amid the threat of a “cyberwar.” In the President’s view, there needs to be more collaboration between private tech companies and the government to continue to protect important infrastructure systems.

“We have to work together like never before,” said President Obama, as reported on BBC News, during a speech at a White House cybersecurity summit hosted in Silicon Valley. “It’s one of the great paradoxes of our time that the very technologies that empower us to do great good can also be used to undermine us and inflict great harm.”

Here’s what you need to know about the order signed, which is advisory in nature, and how it affects you:

1. Major Tech Companies will be Sharing information

According to Motherboard, a few companies are signing up to the order. They include: Cyber Threat Alliance, which includes Palo Alto Networks, Symantec, Intel Security and Fortinet; the Entertainment Software Association, which represents Sony and Microsoft’s video game divisions;  Crowdstrike, a security firm; Box, a cloud storage company; and FireEye, a cybersecurity firm.

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2. This Executive Order is Not CISPA

CISPA is a controversial cybersecurity bill that would allow for voluntary information sharing between private companies and the government in the event of a cyber attack. It has been passed by the House of Representatives twice but died in the Senate. The bill would give the government the power to take down major websites if it detects a cyber attack. It would allow companies to easily hand over users’ private information to the government thanks to a liability clause.

The order today allows for the creation of “information sharing and analysis organizations,” which will be made up of one or more companies who will then work with a newly created National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (​announced earlier this week) to funnel information to the Department of Homeland Security.

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3. Strained Relationship Between Tech Firms and US Government

Apple chief executive Tim Cook attended the conference Friday but other major companies declined the invitation by President Obama.  According to Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg and Marissa Mayer – chief executives of Facebook and Yahoo, respectively – and Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt all declined invitations.

The relationship has been cold since the government’s electronic surveillance practices were exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden a few years ago. Some companies are still rebuilding users’ trust. Moreover, not much has been done in regards to an NSA reform.

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4.  Cyber Attacks are Real

Celebrities aren’t the only ones being hacked.

A recent survey by the Ponemon Institute showed the average cost of cyber crime for U.S. retail stores more than doubled from 2013 to an annual average of $8.6 million per company in 2014. According to the report, “The annual average cost per company of successful cyber attacks increased to $20.8 million in financial services, $14.5 million in the technology sector, and $12.7 million in communications industries.”

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5. The Cyberworld is “the Wild, Wild West”

Who needs guns when there are keyboards? 

The reality is that cybersecurity is a fairly new territory for governments to deal with when it comes to security issues.

Cyber attacks are real; we’ve seen them. But when it comes to a large scale cyber war, the public does not have enough information to make an educated decision. The idea that private information can be confiscated by the government without users’ permissions is a threat to an already fragile system of trust. The initiative by the Obama Administration is a starting point for a conversation that needs to happen. But we shouldn’t lose our rights because of fear.

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Camila has been heavily active in South Florida’s tech startup community, where she is a co-host of a local radio show called pFunkcast. Camila previously worked at Greenpeace International and the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in various communication roles. A proud Brazilian who spent most of he life in Peru, she is passionate about traveling and documentaries.

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