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Obama in new bid to thwart cyber spies, hackers

US President Barack Obama Friday announced he will appoint a cyber czar to manage attempts to repel mounting criminal and espionage attacks on government and private virtual world computer networks.

"It is the great irony of our information age -- the very technologies that empower us to create and to build, also empower those who would seek to disrupt and destroy," Obama said in an announcement at the White House.

"This cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation," Obama added, saying his new coordinator for cyber security would become a member of his national security staff.

The president's new plan comes as gangs of cyber criminals, covert foreign intelligence services -- reportedly including China and Russia -- industrial spies and hackers increasingly prey on US networks, according to various studies.

"We can and we must do better," Obama said, unveiling a "top to bottom" review of US network infrastructure and its vulnerability to cyber crime.

"My administration will pursue a new comprehensive approach to securing America's digital infrastracture," he said, mentioning classified military networks, private commercial computer systems and the world wide web.

"Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority," he said.

"We will deter, prevent, protect and defend against these attacks."

There were fresh signs meanwhile that the Pentagon was planning to create a new military command for cyberspace, to help the armed forces to conduct both offensive and defensive computer warfare.

A US defense official told AFP in April that the administration is planning to create a new military command to counter cyber attacks on the country's sensitive computer networks.

The New York Times reported Friday that Obama was expected to sign a classified order in coming weeks to create the cyber command.

The White House declined to comment on the reports.

The new cyber czar, who was not named on Friday, will be charged with overseeing how the government protects networks and will coordinate government agencies.

The cyber security report meanwhile is being billed by the White House as an "important first step" towards securing US cyber infrastructure.

Plans to reorganize the US government's approach to IT security come amid a growing threat of cyber spying and attacks, including reported breaches of the US electricity grid and the F-35 fighter jet program.

Cyber security was subject to fierce turf battles under the previous administration between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the super-secret electronic surveillance National Security Agency (NSA).

A top DHS cyber security official quit in March, complaining that the department had been sidelined and that US cyber protection efforts were being dominated by the NSA.

A US congressional panel warned in November that China had developed a sophisticated cyber warfare program and stepped up its capacity to penetrate US computer networks to extract sensitive information.

Copyright 2009 AFP Global Edition
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Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:May 29, 2009
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