US President Barack Obama (R) and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson (L)

Obama proposes enhanced cyber-security laws to fight hackers

US President Barack Obama sent a bill to Congress on Tuesday aimed at strengthening cyber-security laws after the recent hacking attacks against Sony Pictures, Home Depot, Target and the federal government.

The proposed legislation seeks to balance needs with concerns by offering liability protection to companies that provide information in near-real-time to the government, whilst simultaneously requiring them to strip it of any personal data.

Obama's proposal would give law enforcement agencies broader powers to investigate and prosecute cyber-crime, with an eye on deterring the theft of personal data. It would also make the selling of stolen credit card information overseas a crime and would allow authorities to prosecute the sale of botnets, the computer networks linked to cyber-crime. The bill also proposes that companies must tell consumers within 30 days from the discovery of a data breach that their personal information has been compromised.

During a tour of a "war room" at the Department of Homeland Security's cyber-security nerve centre in Arlington, Virginia, Obama said the recent attacks highlighted the threat to financial systems, power grids and healthcare systems that run on networks connected to the Internet.

"We've got to stay ahead of those who would do us harm. The problem is that government and the private sector are still not always working as closely together as we should," Obama said.

"Foreign governments, criminals and hackers probe America’s computer networks every single day. We saw that again in the attack on Sony," he continued. The UShas blamed that attack on North Korea.

On Monday, the Twitter and YouTube accounts of the US military command that oversees operations in the Middle East were hacked by people claiming to be sympathetic to the Islamic State militant group currently being targeted in American bombing raids.

Obama said the attack, which is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, did not seem to affect classified information.

Obama has moved cyber-security to the top of his 2015 agenda, seeing it as an area where cooperation is possible with the Republican-led Congress.

The White House will also try to build support for the legislation at a cyber-security summit scheduled for February 13 at Stanford University. Obama previously proposed cyber-security legislation in 2011 that ultimately died in Congress.

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