Rumored White House Cybersecurity Executive Order Ties to 2011 Controversy

A rumor exists that the Obama administration is drafting an executive order to guard national networks against cyber-attacks. Bloomberg News cited two unnamed former officials on the claim, and The Washington Post outlined its contents.

Discussion around the issue largely started after a Senate Republican filibuster blocked S. 3414 on Aug. 2. The bill would have set voluntary cybersecurity standards for privately owned companies and reward those who joined in.

Responding to this, John O. Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, said in an Aug. 8 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, “One of the things we need to do in the executive branch is see what we can do to maybe put additional guidelines and policies in place under executive branch authorities. If the Congress is not going to act on something like this, the president wants to make sure we’re doing everything possible,” according to a transcript.

Brennan added that he found the failure “incomprehensible,” given that the legislation “was calling for minimum performance standards on the cybersecurity front for critical infrastructure that the U.S. government would help develop with private industry.”

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden emailed a statement to Bloomberg News, saying “An executive order is one of a number of measures we’re considering as we look to implement the president’s direction to do absolutely everything we can to better protect our nation against today’s cyberthreats.”

In other words, they are considering an executive order, but other options are on the table.

The basic claim is that this would create a voluntary cybersecurity program that companies can adopt, and is part of an effort to secure critical infrastructures—areas that keep the country moving, and would be key targets in a cyberwar, such as the energy grid, the financial sector, and transportation networks.

Now, it’s significant to note that a strategy fitting this description was already drafted and proposed by the Obama administration in the 2011 Cybersecurity Legislative Proposal. Yet, understanding this fully requires a brief look back over the past couple years.

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Image courtesy of U.S. Air Force photo/Lance Cheung