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Obama readies new cyber defence order

Washington insiders have reported that President Obama is preparing an executive order aimed at bolstering US defences against cyber attacks.

The President has had to bide his time over administering significant changes to the country’s cyber strategy, having been foiled in attempts to pass cyber defence legislation through Congress last year. But Reuters has today cited “sources familiar with the matter” as claiming an order could be issued this week, potentially featuring in Obama’s annual State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday evening.

The order would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) a lead role in protecting critical US infrastructure as cyber attacks continue to rain down on US banks and government departments. Under the move, the DHS is expected to set up a system to bring together intelligence from the private and public sectors, even if an order does not carry the political weight of formal legislation.

"Our biggest issue right now is getting the private sector to a comfort level so they can report anomalies, malware, incidents within their network" without undue fear of being "outed" as victims, FBI Executive Assistant Director Richard McFeely told Reuters.

"We know the executive order isn't going to go as far as legislation could or will go, but it's a good start," the official added.

Former assistant secretary for policy at the DHS, Stewart Baker, said it can be described it as “a down payment on legislation."

Cyber strategy is being afforded increasing attention within the US government, with the President last week being granted theoretical power to launch pre-emptive cyber attacks on those considered to be posing a threat in the digital realm.