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President Obama: My campaign was hacked

By Matthew Shaer / May 29, 2009

A reporter works on a computer as President Barack Obama delivers remarks on securing the nation's cyber infrastructure, Friday, May 29, 2009, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

Ron Edmonds/AP

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Today, the White House unveiled the details of an ambitious new cyber-security initiative, which President Obama said would gird the nation's infrastructure against digital threats. "We rely on the Internet to pay our bills, to bank, to shop, to file our taxes," Obama said in a news conference in the East Room of the White House. "But we've had to learn a whole new vocabulary just to stay ahead of the cyber criminals who would do us harm – spyware and malware and spoofing and phishing and botnets. Millions of Americans have been victimized, their privacy violated, their identities stolen, their lives upended, and their wallets emptied."

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'I know how it feels'

Much of the buzz from the press conference has centered on Obama's announcement that he will appoint a "cyber-czar" to oversee anti-hacker efforts. (The president has yet to decide who will fill the role, although speculation is high that his top choice is former Bush administration adviser Melissa Hathaway, who led a recent review into online security in the U.S.) But for geeks around the globe, the real news was that the Blackberry-addicted president has up-close-and-personal experience with malware. In his speech, Obama said he knows "how it feels to have privacy violated because it has happened to me and the people around me." He continued:

It's no secret that my presidential campaign harnessed the Internet and technology to transform our politics. What isn't widely known is that during the general election hackers managed to penetrate our computer systems. To all of you who donated to our campaign, I want you to all rest assured, our fundraising website was untouched. So your confidential personal and financial information was protected.

The comment was greeted with chuckles.

The gathering storm

But the cyber-threat is no laughing matter, as Obama knows. In late April, it was reported that hackers had successfully busted into a top-secret strike fighter program, and last year, a virus surged through the computers at a military base in Afghanistan. "[It's] clear that we're not as prepared as we should be, as a government or as a country," Obama said, adding that, "just as we failed in the past to invest in our physical infrastructure – our roads, our bridges and rails – we've failed to invest in the security of our digital infrastructure."

For years, cyber-defense has been split between various federal organizations, including the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, and Department of Homeland Security. This new office will unify these branches under one single command, ostensibly amping up the defensive capability of the nation's computer networks.

Taking the temperature of the blogosphere

The reaction on the blogosphere was mixed. Many lauded the appointment as long overdue; some argued there were already enough czars pottering around the White House. On Twitter, FrankBoone wondered, "Could Obama's Cyber Cop be groundwork for assault on Free Speech?" RyanKendrick joked, "Because the US Government has so much xtra $, Obama expected to announce plans for 'Cyber Czar.'"

Freedom Eden, a right-leaning blog, takes the direct approach: "I'm not suggesting that protecting our nation's computer networks isn't important, but is a cyber czar necessary?"

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