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New administration's cyber-security strategy could provide opportunities for local businesses

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In a speech at Purdue University last July, then-Senator Barack Obama said: "Every American depends -- directly or indirectly -- on our system of information networks. They are increasingly the backbone of our economy and our infrastructure; our national security and our personal well being. But it's no secret that terrorists could use our computer networks to deal us a crippling blow. We know that cyber-espionage and common crime is already on the rise. And yet while countries like China have been quick to recognize this change, for the last eight years we have been dragging our feet."

He later added, "As president, I'll make cyber-security the top priority that it should be in the 21st century." Not only a new administration, but a new generation has come to Washington, weaned on Blackberries and social networking technologies.

On his first full day in office, President Obama announced a new strategy to protect the nation's information systems and networks. Call it "the war on terror" Internet style -- a modern plan for a distinctly modern problem. Obama's cyber-security strategy could mean enormous opportunities for businesses, particularly in the San Diego area.

Obama's proposal is based upon a report written in December 2007 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) entitled "Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency." Among the findings: Declare cyber-infrastructure a strategic asset and establish the position of national cyber adviser who will report directly to the president and will be responsible for coordinating federal agency efforts and the development of national cyber-policy; support an initiative to develop next-generation secure computers and networking for national security applications; work with industry and academia to develop and deploy a new generation of secure hardware and software for our critical cyber-infrastructure; and work with the private sector to establish tough new standards for cyber-security and physical resilience.

In addition, the CSIS report suggests working with private sector experts to improve the federal government's IT systems to protect our nation's trade secrets and research and development. Innovations in software, energy, engineering, pharmaceuticals and other fields are being stolen online from U.S. businesses at an alarming rate.

Obama's plan also aims to shut down the mechanisms used to transmit criminal profits by prohibiting untraceable Internet payment schemes. It would initiate a grant and training program to provide federal, state and local law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to detect and prosecute cyber-crime; partner with industry and citizens to secure personal data stored on government and private systems; and institute a common standard for securing such data across industries while protecting the rights of individuals in the information age.

The federal government has already taken significant steps to address cyber-security across federal agencies and departments with the drafting of the Comprehensive National Cyber Security Initiative (CNCI) signed by former President Bush in January 2008. The Bush administration's largest request for fiscal year 2009 funding within the intelligence budget was for CNCI as a multibillion-dollar project designed to develop a plan to secure government systems and networks from foreign and domestic intrusion (analysts estimate that it will cost as much as $40 billion to implement).

While this initiative is a step in the right direction, the federal government is still learning about what it needs to do to bring its critical infrastructure into the 21st century -- and is eager for help from business like those in San Diego with that expertise.

The federal cyber-security market presents a vast business opportunity. San Diego-area companies that specialize in cyber security-related products and services may see an unprecedented government spending spree. Even companies exclusively focused on nongovernmental sales should seek these opportunities, or at least understand the impact of these government activities on their competitive environment. Numerous overlapping and sometimes contradictory policies and procedures affect the government's purchase of IT products and services. Standards or practices developed for the public sector will impact what private sector companies are required to buy to meet the new federal laws.

Farry is a managing director with the Government Affairs practice and chair of the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) practice of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.

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