Obama takes part in cyberattack exercise

President Obama and senior administration officials participated in a simulated cyberattack exercise on Tuesday.

The simulation, which was sponsored by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), examined how the federal government would respond to an attack that caused physical damage to the nation's critical infrastructure.

The president hosted a Cabinet meeting with his leadership team to practice the decision-making that would occur following a significant attack, according to the White House.

The simulation is the latest in a series of exercises to help the government prepare for a catastrophic cyber attack.

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Senior administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FBI Director Robert Mueller, performed a classified demonstration of how the government would respond to a cyber attack on the New York City electrical grid in front of dozens of senators in March.

The White House is pushing Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation that would set mandatory standards for critical infrastructure, such as power grids and gas pipelines, to help guard against such attacks.

Supporters of the mandates say they are are necessary to protect vulnerable systems from attacks that could kill thousands of people, but many Republicans argue the regulations would impose unnecessary burdens on businesses. 

"As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, we need Congress to pass legislation to secure the nation from the growing danger of cyber threats, while safeguarding the privacy and civil liberties of our citizens," the White House said in its statement on the exercise. "The American people expect their government to ensure the cybersecurity of the critical infrastructure upon which so much of our national security, economic well-being, and daily lives depend."

The House passed a cybersecurity bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), in April, but the bill opted for voluntary information-sharing with the government, rather than imposing mandates.

Obama threatened to veto CISPA, saying it would fail to protect critical infrastructure and would undermine people's privacy by encouraging companies to hand over their customers' personal information to spy agencies.

Although the administration has made improving cybersecurity a top priority, it has also reportedly wielded cyber weapons itself.

The New York Times reported last week that the United States worked with Israel to develop the Stuxnet virus, which caused centrifuges in Iranian nuclear facilities to explode.

The story detailed joint U.S. and Israeli efforts to develop the virus, as well as conversations Obama had with his advisers on whether to continue the program when the virus became public in 2010. The story cited unnamed current and former U.S., Israeli and European officials.