White House Announces Major Expansion of Cybersecurity Efforts

Obama creates a new commission to shore up defenses, and asks for a big funding boost for cybersecurity.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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The White House took a big step Tuesday to boost the government’s internet defenses after months of devastating data breaches and embarrassing revelations about the systems designed to stop such attacks.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order Tuesday that creates a Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, which will “make detailed recommendations to strengthen cybersecurity in both the public and private sectors” and deliver a report by December 1. The administration also wants to increase the federal cybersecurity budget by a third next year, asking Congress for an additional $5 billion to upgrade old computer systems, strengthen defenses, and help recruit cyber professionals.

These two actions are part of the “Cybersecurity National Action Plan,” a new large-scale effort to tackle a series of internet security problems that became major issues in 2015. In addition to the attacks on the Office of Personnel Management, in which hackers stole the background check records of more than 20 million federal workers, the government and private sector fought over law enforcement’s ability to read encrypted messages—something tech companies say weakens both security and civil liberties—and the ability of terrorist groups like ISIS to plan online and recruit new members through social media. The administration had already announced the creation of a new federal agency to run background checks, and also sent top national security officials to meet with tech executives in California last month.

To allay privacy concerns, the president also announced the formation of a Federal Privacy Council that would help federal agencies share and standardize rules for handling personal data. “The proper functioning of Government requires the public’s trust, and to maintain that trust the Government must strive to uphold the highest standards for collecting, maintaining, and using personal data,” Obama wrote in a second executive order issued on Tuesday.

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