Cyberspace is the new "wild west," President Obama said Friday, with everyone looking to the government to be the sheriff. But he said the private sector must do more to stop cyberattacks aimed at the U.S. every day.
Speaking Friday in California's Silicon Valley, Obama warned that cyberthreats are a challenge to U.S. national security, public safety and the economy. He told his audience of administration officials, tech CEOs, law enforcement officers and consumer and privacy advocates that all must work together to do what none can achieve alone.
"Just as we're all connected like never before, we have to work together like never before, both to seize opportunities but also meet the challenges of this information age," Obama said. "It's one of the great paradoxes of our time that the very technologies that empower us to do great good can also be used to undermine us and inflict great harm."
Obama said people sometimes don't do enough to prevent online attacks -- and joked that he's even used "password" and "123457" as his passwords before. "I've changed them since then," Obama said to, laughter.
The event was aimed at encouraging policymakers who want to regulate the online world and tech innovators who traditionally shun Beltway bureaucracies to respond to costly and potentially crippling threats to the security of online networks.
Obama signed an executive order to encourage the private sector to share information about threats to cybersecurity with each other and with the federal government.
J.J. Thompson, CEO and managing director of Rook Security, a consulting firm founded in San Jose, California, said the symbolic significance of the gathering could not be overstated, despite its "dog and pony show" aspects. The summit is being held at Stanford University, a hub of tech innovation.
"Cybersecurity is at the forefront of everyone in America right now, from the Beltway to California," Thompson said in an interview.
Numerous companies, ranging from mass retailers like Target and Home Depot to Sony Pictures Entertainment to health insurer Anthem, have suffered costly and embarrassing data breaches in recent months. "These attacks are hurting American companies and hurting American jobs," Obama said.
The Twitter feed of U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the volatile Middle East, was hacked recently, while the White House reported detecting "activity of concern" last October on the unclassified computer network used by White House staffers.
While a growing cadre of information security experts have for years grappled with cybersecurity as online communications boomed, their concerns have largely been downplayed.
But with record public and private sector data breaches last year -- the Identity Theft Resource Center found that 85 million records were exposed last year -- the discussion has moved from the tech geeks to policy wonks.
The Obama administration wants Congress to supersede an existing patchwork of state laws by setting a national standard for when companies must notify consumers that their personal information has been compromised.
Stanford is in the heart of the Silicon Valley, home to Google, Apple, Facebook, Intel and most other tech leaders. The valley is also a national hub of innovation, with the most patents, venture capital investment and startups per capita in the U.S. The university launched a $15 million initiative in November to research the technical and governance issues involved in maintaining security online.
A sore point for the private sector is that while most states require them to report breaches, the federal government isn't required to publicize its own data losses.