The White House says it’s working to increase the security of the federal government’s computer and data systems after high-profile hacks at various agencies, including a recent breach at the Justice Department.
President Barack Obama Tuesday signed an executive order establishing a federal privacy council to ensure all of the administration’s branches are using the best, most secure practices when safeguarding individual employees’ information, as well as government data.
He also convened a meeting of his national security team, supplemented by top cybersecurity advisers, on Tuesday morning to discuss his new initiative.
“One of the biggest gaps between the public sector and the private sector is in our IT space. And it makes everyone’s information vulnerable,” Obama said, describing the systems providing the technological underpinning for Social Security and other programs “archaic.”
“This is not ideological issue. It doesn’t matter if there’s a Democratic president or a Republican president. If you’ve got broken, old systems — computers, mainframes, software — that doesn’t work anymore, then you can keep on putting a bunch of patch on it but it’s not going to make it safe,” Obama said.
In his annual budget proposal, unveiled Tuesday, Obama included $19 billion for bolstering cybersecurity in the federal government, including $3.1 billion to replace outdated IT systems that are difficult to secure.
The White House said it was conducting a systematic review of where the government can reduce its use of Social Security numbers as identifiers of citizens. Also included in Obama’s plan: increasing training and recruiting programs for the federal government to attract experts in preventing cyber breaches.
Much of the proposal Obama unveiled Tuesday will require Congress to sign off. GOP lawmakers have already shown little willingness to consider Obama’s budget, which also includes new spending for infrastructure and heroin addiction treatment programs.
But Obama said he had already discussed the cybersecurity initiative specifically with House Speaker Paul Ryan, and expressed optimism lawmakers would take up his proposal.
The federal government has been working to secure its systems after a series of embarrassing high-profile breaches, including an attack at the Office of Personnel Management that left the information of 20 million current and federal employees vulnerable.
The government’s top cybersecurity experts acknowledge the new plan won’t entirely prevent further breaches, but say new steps are essential.
“Anybody who thinks any one thing is the absolute defense is probably mistaken,” said Tony Scott, the U.S. chief information officer.