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Obama to seek dramatic boost in cyber funding

Obama to seek dramatic boost in cyber funding
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President Obama on Tuesday is expected to request a dramatic boost in federal funding for cybersecurity, according to multiple Hill offices, industry representatives and digital privacy advocates.

As part of the annual White House budget proposal, the Obama administration will ask for over $19 billion in cyber spending, a 35 percent increase over last year's allottment of roughly $14 billion.

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The request would be a big jump for the White House after only asking for an additional $1 billion last year, a roughly 10 percent increase.

Obama is also expected to use the budget as a platform to establish a new senior federal cybersecurity official and a commission on cybersecurity as part of a final push to bolster the government’s digital defenses before leaving office.

The White House has scheduled a late Tuesday afternoon briefing with cybersecurity stakeholders, presumably to discuss the proposals.

The federal government has taken heat this past year for relying on antiquated cyber protections that have let in hackers from China and Russia.

The big blow came over the summer, when the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) acknowledged a series of hacks that exposed roughly 20 million security clearance background checks, some of the most sensitive forms the government maintains.

More recently, a federal watchdog report concluded that the government's cyber defense system, known as “Einstein,” was largely ineffective at thwarting hackers. The report echoed long-standing criticism from security experts who describe the program as a much-delayed boondoggle that is already outdated.

Federal officials argue the system is in its final phase of implementation and will soon serve as a platform to add on leading cyber tools.

The new federal cybersecurity official will be housed within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and go by the title of chief information security officer, or CISO, according to several people with knowledge of the announcement.

The CISO will report to Tony Scott, the federal chief information officer (CIO), who oversees government technology.

The expected commission on cybersecurity will likely include a wide variety of representatives, including industry groups and privacy advocates.

It’s not clear yet what the commission will study, although encryption has been a major sticking point between the government and the tech community recently, given the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

While law enforcement is seeking guaranteed access to encrypted data, privacy advocates and tech firms believe unbreakable encryption is necessary to protect everyday Internet activities from hackers and spies.

Several people with knowledge of the commission said they did not know whether encryption would be a focus.

The Obama administration does have experience bringing together disparate sides of the cybersecurity field in an effort to develop standards on the topic.

In 2013, Obama issued an executive order directing the Commerce Department to create a cybersecurity framework that companies could use to assess their hacking threats and develop appropriate digital defenses.

Industry and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have praised the framework as a good example of a successful public-private partnership.