WH appoints Gregory Touhill, retired Air Force general, to new cyber role

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The White House on Thursday appointed a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general to act as the government’s first ever chief information security officer eight months after President Obama unveiled the role as part of a multi-prong effort to bolster the nation’s ability to stop hackers.

Gen. Gregory Touhill will officially begin his role as the country’s first federal CISO later this month, the Obama administration said in a statement Thursday.

Currently a deputy assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications at the Department of Homeland Security, Gen. Touhill will lead a team within the White House’s Office of Management and Budget “that conducts periodic cyberstat reviews with federal agencies to insure that implementation plans are effective and achieve the desired outcomes,” the government’s chief information officer and the appointee’s new boss, Tony Scott, said in a statement.

The federal CISO position was announced as part of a Cybersecurity Workforce Strategy unveiled by Mr. Obama in February, and Gen. Touhill at its helm “will play a central role in helping to ensure the right set of policies, strategies, and practices are adopted across agencies and keeping the Federal Government at the leading edge of 21st century cybersecurity,” Mr. Scott said.

Gen. Touhill will “leverage his considerable experience in managing a range of complex and diverse technical solutions at scale with his strong knowledge of both civilian and military best practices, capabilities, and human capital training, development and retention strategies,” Mr. Scott said. Grant Schneider, the current director of cybersecurity policy at the White House’s National Security Council, will serve as his acting deputy, he added.

Mr. Obama outlined his cybersecurity strategy in the wake of high-profile data breaches suffered by government agencies including the U.S. Office of Personnel Management as well as private sector companies like Sony, both widely attributed on foreign hackers.

The months since have seen a continuation of serious cyberattacks, however, and U.S. intelligence officials have reportedly concluded with high confidence that the Russian government has hacked the computers of several individuals and organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party in recent months as part of an apparent state-sponsored cyber campaign.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, denied these charges as recently as last week.

In unveiling his Cybersecurity Workforce Strategy, Mr. Obama also asked Congress to allocate $19 billion for federal cybersecurity purposes in 2017 — $5 billion more than he requested for 2016.

Both major party candidates running for Mr. Obama’s job in November’s general election have stressed the importance of protecting the nation’s computer networks in recent days. The democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, last week said her administration would use the military to response to state-sponsored hacking; her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, on Wednesday said he’d “conduct a thorough review of all United States cyber defenses and identify all vulnerabilities” as president.

The winner of November’s presidential election will be able to pick Gen. Touhill’s successor after being sworn in next January since the CISO role is a political appointment, according to a Reuters report Thursday published prior to the White House’s official announcement.

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