Cybersecurity threats against the United States are growing, President Barack Obama said before meeting corporate leaders Wednesday to discuss rising concerns about hacking attacks emanating from China.
"What is absolutely true is that we have seen a steady ramping up of cybersecurity threats," Obama said in an interview with ABC, noting that some threats were "state-sponsored."
"We’ve made it very clear to China and some other state actors that, you know, we expect them to follow international norms and abide by international rules," Obama said.
After efforts to improve defenses against cyberattacks failed in Congress last year, the White House has tried to elevate the issue. Obama signed an executive order last month to encourage voluntary security standards and information sharing.
But Obama also wants Congress to try again on legislation. "There are ways that we can harden our critical infrastructure, our financial sector," Obama said in the ABC interview. "They need to get this done."
Obama took the unusual step of meeting with corporate chief executives in the White House Situation Room, the secure site in the West Wing basement where the president meets with national security advisers during crises.
The meeting included Honeywell International’s David Cote, AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, and Northrop Grumman’s Wes Bush, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
The meeting comes the day after U.S. intelligence leaders said for the first time that cyberattacks and cyberespionage have supplanted terrorism as the top security threat facing the United States.
Carney said the meeting with CEOs was part of an effort to build consensus on the need for legislation.
"He wants to hear from out in the field what they’re . . . experiencing, what their concerns are, what their challenges are, what they hope to see in terms of action in Washington," Carney said.
Industry executives planned to raise a number of concerns during their meeting with Obama, including privacy issues, protection from legal damages if government data networks are breached, and how to share information about cyberattacks.
This week, U.S. authorities said they were investigating reports that Obama’ own family had been hit by hacking.
The president said in the ABC interview that he did not know whether reports were true that hackers had posted financial and personal information online about his wife, Michelle, along with other high-profile Americans.
"It would not shock me if some information . . . among people who presumably have pretty good safeguards against it, still gets out," he said.
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