Tag Archives | Barack Obama

Obama Taps Former Bush Adviser to Fill Cybersecurity Post

The White House said Tuesday that it had appointed former Bush cybersecurity adviser Howard Schmidt as Obama’s new Chief of Cybersecurity. Schmidt would serve on the National Security staff, and would work closely with the President’s economic advisers to ensure efforts do not hinder economic progress.

“Howard is one of the world’s leading authorities on computer security, with some 40 years of experience in government, business and law enforcement,” Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Assistant to the President John Brennan said.

Obama is acting on a promise made in May when he announced the creation of the post. The Adminstration sees cybersecurity as vital to national security, and it makes sense: increasingly the country’s enemies are turning to digital means to launch their attacks.

The recent example of Iraqi insurgents hacking into our Predator drones is certainly a good example of why we need to get more serious with the threats we face in cyberspace.

With the appointment, the White House is also making an effort to get the citizenry to become proactive in keeping themselves secure. A few boilerplate suggestions have been posted to the White House blog.

“Cybersecurity matters to all of us – and it’s our shared responsibility to mitigate the threats in this space,” spokesperson Macon Phillips wrote.

Schmidt’s appointment is also seen as a compromise between factions who have debated the course the Administration should take. Some are worried that extra regulation could harm innovation, while others are looking for swift action to prevent future attacks.

Putting someone in with business and government experience makes sense. Schmidt had served in executive positions involving security at both eBay and Microsoft prior to his involvement with the Bush Administration. Thus, he will have experience with both sides of the argument and may be able to bring everyone together easier than a political hack or some business leader with no government experience could.

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Secret Service Investigates Facebook App

Facebook LogoFacebook polls typically ask questions as mundane as “what’s your favorite breakfast cereal?” But over the weekend, a poll asking whether U.S. President Barack Obama should “be killed” was anything but mundane, and drew the attention of the Secret Service.

The poll gave respondents four options: Yes, Yes if he cuts my health care, Maybe, and No. It was created by an unknown user of a third party polling application that runs on Facebook. The Secret Service became aware of the application, and is investigating.

For its part, Facebook suspended the offending application after the incident was brought to its attention this morning, said director of policy communications Barry Schnitt. He added that it has asked the developer to institute better control procedures to monitor user-generated content.

This poll would be less worrisome if it did not happen amid a climate of threats against the President. Last month, the Secret Service acknowledged that threats had increased by 400 percent since Mr. Obama’s inauguration. There have also been incidents of conservative religious figures in the United States openly wishing for his death.

The United States has a history of political violence, and even a casual suggestion might be enough to set off an unstable individual. The poll was wildly irresponsible. I would only hope that those responsible will be held accountable.


Obama Praises Tech Giants

U.S. President Barack Obama heralded the technology industry in a speech today about the importance of education. The speech, which was given to school children across the country, emphasized personal responsibility, hard work, and perseverance.

In his remarks, Obama told school children that students sitting in classrooms a generation beforehand had grown up to produce Facebook, Google and Twitter –changing the way Americans communicate with one another. Those successes would have been hard to come by without an education, the President noted.

Obama successfully leveraged social networking in his campaign to become President, building a large grassroots following on the Web. His campaign leveraged Web services to rapidly convey his message and to respond to political attacks.

Despite the President’s praise, technology didn’t get a free pass in his speech. He cautioned against too much of a good thing, and asked parents to manage how much time their children spend watching TV and playing Xbox. (Obama singled out Microsoft’s game console rather than mentioning the PlayStation and Wii as well, a fact some folks noticed).  He also told children to be careful about what they post online (which was a world away from President Eisenhower’s generic appeal for students to study math and science).

Here’s the speech in its entirety, in two chunks–thank you, YouTube:

Controversy aside, the President gave common sense advise that it would behoove every child to follow. Maybe the inventor of the next big thing was listening in, and became inspired by the President’s words.

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Health Care Reform becomes Comedic Gold on Twitter

Twitter logoThe U.S. debate over President Obama’s health care reform proposals has taken a humorous turn on Twitter today.

Tweets making light of some of the more outlandish claims that are being made by the President’s political opponents have become trending topics: Under Obamacare and #Obamacarefacts. Here’s a sampling of some of the wittier remarks.


Under Obamacare two grandmas enter… one grandma leaves. http://tinyurl.com/m67qt9


Under ObamaCare, Soylent Green will be people. #obamacarefacts (via @Southworth)


#obamacarefacts Under Obamacare only Chuck Norris will be allowed to practice medicine. Administered via roundhouse kick


Under ObamaCare, keyboard cat will play YOU out. #obamacarefacts


#obamacarefacts Under ObamaCare, organ donates you!


Under ObamaCare, ADHD drugs for children will be replaced with swift punches to the offending child’s arms http://tinyurl.com/ngsqgm


Obama’s Cybersecurity Initivate a Step in the Right Direction

Today, U.S. President Barack Obama took the wraps off of a 60-day review of the nation’s electronic infrastructure. The report outlined concrete steps towards achieving better security, called for the creation of a cyber security czar in the White House staff, and emphasized the importance of respecting people’s privacy.

In April, I wrote “Obama gets it,” in an article about how critical U.S.infrastructure was vulnerable to damage and disruption. While some of the details haven’t been shared yet, the initiative that the President announced today does chart the right course.

The report concludes that the federal government needs to its increase investment in achieving security and resiliency in information and communications infrastructures, and calls for a public-private partnership to coordinate responses to cyber attacks in addition to rallying  international cooperation to mitigate security risks.

Another goal is to educate the public about the importance of cyber security, but with incidents such as the U.S Army being hacked in news headlines, reality has already helped there.

Obama’s plan mirrors a bipartisan effort that was championed by U.S. Senators John Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The bill that they proposed also called for a White House position to coordinate all Federal security efforts.

Rex Black, a well known security expert and president of Rex Black Consulting Services, told me that it was understandable that Obama would want someone to fill that role. The position should be staffed by the White House rather than the Commerce Department or Military due to the turf wars that would inevitably happen, he added.

The report strikes a political balance: New laws and mandates could come as a consequence, but the White House said that it would avoid imposing new requirements on the private sector if it could be avoided. Privacy was also mentioned more than 60 times in the report, and the President said unequivocally, “Our pursuit of cyber security will not–I repeat, will not include–monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic.”

Overall, I am heartened by the high priority that Obama has placed this very serious problem so early on during his Presidency. He is giving credibility to the people that are trying to solve it, and that will only help drive towards a solution–even if we have to walk before we can run.


Digg This: The White House's Social Media Experiment

Reviving an experiment it conducted during the transition, the Obama administration is using a Digg-style collaborative system called Open for Questions to collect questions for the president to answer. Here’s why it’s doi–oh, heck, wouldn’t you prefer to hear it from the horse’s mouth?

Open for Questions lets registered users submit questions and vote on questions submitted by others. I can’t understand why the interface is trapped inside a tiny window that involves lots of scrolling, but the questions that are rising to the top are no worse than those that citizens tend to ask when presented with the opportunity at town-hall style meetings with elected officials. Here are the ones at the top of the rankings when I checked:

Open for Change

I’m not sure what anti-tampering measures are in place at Open for Questions–you gotta think that even now, someone’s plotting a prank like the one that resulted in Hank the Angry, Drunken Dwarf being voted People’s Most Beautiful Person of the Year in 1998. And I found that it’s more fun to read the unfiltered questions that the service shows you for voting–they’re wackier and crankier. A high percentage are from folks who are fretting about immigration (illegal and otherwise), and some are from conspiracy theorists, obsessives, and people with unique ideas for fixing the economy:





The president will answer questions from this round of voting tomorrow (on the Web, naturally). I’m not sure if he’ll simply respond to the most popular ones, no matter what they may be–or if he’ll be more selective. Betcha that none of the four above will make the cut, though..


Obama Administration Appoints Top CIO

The White House press office announced today that Vivek Kundra, the current chief technology officer of Washington DC, will be assuming the position of Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the White House.

U.S. President Barack Obama rode into office backed by an unprecedentedly sophisticated grassroots campaign that leveraged Web 2.0 technologies to rally and organize his supporters. Kundra’s appointment fulfills a campaign promise to appoint a so-called technology czar to make the federal government operate more effectively.

The appointment of a top CIO is another first: the position did not exist in any previous administrations. Kundra will also have final say on government technology purchases , and will have the authority to overrule his peers at subordinate agencies.

He will likewise have responsibilities for making government information systems more interoperable to share information, while preserving (and in many cases establishing) security and privacy standards. The Washington Post has reported that Mundra will have a CTO to assist his efforts.

The impact all of this has on government contractors–as well as commercial software vendors–could be huge. Imagine if Kundra decides that the federal government should embrace open source software, for instance.

All I can say is “wow.” Government agencies have enjoyed incredible autonomy; getting CIOs to fall in line is an immense task and will require skillful political maneuvering. But it is an undertaking that may be long overdue.

Salon.com founder Scott Rosenberg’s book Dreaming in Code (a great read, btw) details how the Internal Revenue Service’s tax system modernization cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and ultimately failed.

The notion that someone could pull the plug on such bloated efforts offers taxpayers a measure of accountability, and in my opinion, that’s a very positive happening.

When President Obama took office, his staffers entered a White House that was years behind the technology curve –old, outdated equipment stymied staffers that were accustomed to the bleeding edge. Reports about security breaches persist to this day.

Kundra’s job will be a great experiment in streamlining bureaucracy, and is perhaps the most difficult a CIO has ever taken. Is a Federal CIO is a good idea, or will the position be relegated to failure?


White House No Longer Using YouTube

It appears as if the Obama Administration has decided to stop using YouTube as a method to embed its videos into websites for the Government. Starting with this weeks address, videos are now served in Flash through technology provided by Akamai.

While most seem to be labeling it as a way to answer privacy concerns, I always thought it kind of weird for a government entity to be using a branded solution for streaming media.

Our government (in theory at least) is supposed to not show any favoritism towards any one company. Seeing that big ol’ YouTube logo everytime I watched the President’s address always seemed slightly odd.

If it did have to do with privacy concerns, YouTube had actually made some effort to strengthen its privacy policy for those watching videos on government websites. Apparently the Administration didn’t get the message there.

Videos would still be pushed to YouTube as they have been before. However it now appears that Akamai’s technology will serve them on the actual government site.

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My.BarackObama.com’s Porn-and-Malware Problem

An online community burgeoned out of Barack Obama’s use of Web 2.0 technologies during his campaign for the U.S. presidency. Supporters flocked to My.BarackObama.com to share blogs, videos and organized events. In the wake of that success, malicious hackers are leveraging the site in a socially engineered scheme to infect PCs with a trojan.

The hackers are embedding their My.BarackObama.com Web pages (content on the site is user generated) with links to Web sites that masquerade as YouTube, according to a report by Websense Security Labs ThreatSeeker Network. The fraudulent YouTube sites are filled with pornography, and prompt visitors to install a codec for video playback, which is really the trojan.

The good news is that today’s Web browsers don’t just automatically install software: end user interaction is required. While some people may be fooled into installing the trojan because the domain is legitimate, many will not simply because they did not recognize the My.BarackObama.com user’s Web page that directed them to it.

My.BarackObama.com is a community where people have reputations and interact with one another. I participated in the “blog wars” during the Democratic primary, and know whose URLs I would trust to click on. The trojan’s creators are plastering links to the malicious pages around the Web without regard for that community dynamic. My bet: Virus definitions will be updated to foil these scams, and they won’t spread far.

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The ObamaBerry: It’s Real!

ObamaberryYes, you can be the President of the United States and a denizen of the 21st century, apparently–at least when it comes to cell phones. The U.S. government has figured out how to mod a BlackBerry for super-secure communications, giving President Obama the ability to use the gizmo he feared losing for routing and personal communications. He’s relieved, I’m sure. And I’m relieved–the position is enough of a guy in a plastic bubble already, and there’s something basically unhealthy about the notion that the job is incompatible with modern means of communications. (Let’s hope we never have another leader of the free world who thinks it’s called “the Google.”)

All of which leaves one burning question: Just which BlackBerry model does the president tote? I suspect he’s an 8800 man, although I wouldn’t rule out the idea that he’s upgraded to a Bold.

In a semi-related story, the Washington Post has a good (if alarming) story on the very low-tech White House that the Obama administration is inheriting, with a great quote from spokesman Bull Burton: ” “It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari.”