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Obama's strategy for countering cyber attacks

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Obama, the first US president to insist on access to his own e-mail system, did not say who he would pick as cyber czar. But he sketched his approach to the problem in broad-brush strokes, bringing government and industry together to develop a strategy that would aim to "deter, prevent, detect, and defend" against attacks and prevent "weapons of mass disruption" from bringing the US digital infrastructure to its knees.

But in doing so, he will be arranging a marriage between government and private industry when each might be happier staying single. Industry efforts to counter cyber attacks tend to be more effective than public efforts. And companies are wary of sharing their information with one another, let alone the government.

"We've developed an environment in which there is cooperation, but I think there is still a lack of trust," says Neill Sciarrone, who was special assistant to President Bush for cyber security and information sharing.

Obama said he will develop a strategy without pushing onerous regulations on an industry wary of such intervention. He also sought to assure Americans that he does not support violating their own privacy to achieve his ends.

"Our pursuit of cyber security will not, I repeat, will not include monitoring private-sector networks or Internet traffic," he said. "We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans."

The administration will walk a fine line, says Mark Gerencser, senior vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm in Washington, who participated in a cyber-attack "war game" in December with top Pentagon and Homeland Security officials.

"One of our clear findings was balancing privacy and security, and that has to be kept in mind," he says. "Given our freedoms and liberties that we value so dearly, some security measures just won't work."

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