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Obama Signs Executive Order at Stanford Cybersecurity Summit

President Barack Obama signed an executive order laying out new ways for corporations to share information on emerging online threats at a cybersecurity summit at California’s Stanford University.

“Just as we are all connected like never before, we have to work together like never before, both to seize opportunities and to meet the challenges of this information age,” the president said at Friday’s Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection.

Obama warned that cyber attacks have the potential to disrupt critical infrastructure, public safety and the economy. He noted that the nation’s power grids, as well as critical financial, health and air traffic control systems are all inextricably linked to online systems which are vulnerable to attack.

“It is one of the great paradoxes of our time that the very technologies that empower us can also be used to undermine us,” he said.

The president urged companies to cooperate with the federal government to bolster Internet protections.

“This has to be a shared mission,” he said. “The government cannot do this alone. The fact is that the private sector can’t do this alone either.”

The new executive order is aimed at shielding computer networks and data from cyber threats. Among its key provisions:

Information Hubs: The executive order encourages the creation of “information sharing and analysis organizations” to combat “particular emerging threats or vulnerabilities.”

Information Sharing: The Department of Homeland Security and the new National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center now have the authority to share information on cyber threats with the information hubs. Corporations will also have easier access to classified government data.

Although the president’s order urges the information hubs to adhere to voluntary standards meant to protect Internet users’ data and privacy, online privacy advocates expressed their concerns about the its implications.

“Information sharing doesn’t sound very threatening unless it’s your information that others want to share,” Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Moral Low Ground. “The new executive order may encourage information sharing, but it’s unclear whether it will further the public’s interest in accountable information sharing—or in the privacy of their personal information, given the roles of the intelligence and law enforcement communities.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook, who addressed the Stanford summit just before Obama, spoke of the importance of protecting consumer privacy.

“People have entrusted us with their most personal and precious information,” Cook said. “We owe them nothing less than the best protection that we can possibly provide.”

Researcher Adam Shostack told The Verge that he doubts foreign companies, wary of American hyper-surveillance, will want to cooperate with the US government.

“The world outside the US is concerned that the US spies on them, which means that the new center will get minimal cooperation from any company which does business outside the US,” said Shostack.

Obama’s appearance at the cybersecurity summit and his executive order come amid growing concerns about government and corporate vulnerabilities to increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks, as demonstrated by last month’s hacks of Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Obama administration and the FBI blamed the attacks on North Korea.

The president recently cited this and other cyber attacks, including an attack by Islamic State hackers on a Pentagon Twitter account, as proof of the need for a more robust cybersecurity regime.

To that end, Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco announced on Tuesday that the administration is establishing a new cybersecurity agency, the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, which will coordinate analysis of emerging cyber threats.

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