President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron jointly announced a new partnership Friday that seeks to bolster cyberdefense cooperation between the two allies and deepen collaboration among each country's intelligence agencies.
As part of the agreement, the U.S. and the United Kingdom will conduct a series of cyber war games later this year to test and improve each nation's ability to defend and respond to cyberattacks.
The program calls for increased information sharing and "joint cybersecurity and network defense exercises," with the first such rehearsals focusing on the financial sector. As part of the new initiative, intelligence agencies--including the National Security Agency and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters--will establish a "joint cyber cell" to have an operating presence in each country to allow for more rapid sharing of cyber defense data.
"With regard to security, American-British unity is enabling us to meet challenges in Europe and beyond," Obama said at a press conference held with Cameron.
The announcement of the partnership caps a week that saw the White House mount an aggressive policy push on cybersecurity in advance of President Obama's State of the Union next week, during which the president is expected to call on Congress to pass his legislative proposals on information sharing and data security. It also follows terrorist attacks in France earlier this year that killed 17 and have much of Europe clamoring for more robust counterterrorism measures.
Cameron is at the White House on a two-day trip that has reportedly also included heavy lobbying for cooperation with the U.S. to work together to halt the expansion of strongly encrypted messaging platforms in order to better respond to terrorist threats. Neither Obama nor Cameron addressed encryption technology during their opening remarks.
Privacy advocates and security analysts have taken umbrage with the suggestion that too-tough-to-crack technology poses insurmountable hurdles for law enforcement agencies and could undermine national security.
A secret 2009 U.S. cybersecurity report—released publicly Thursday by The Guardian, which obtained the document from fugitive leaker Edward Snowden—warned that government and private computers are vulnerable to hacks from Russia, China, and criminals if better encryption technologies were not implemented. The well-timed leak appears to stand in stark contrast to claims made by authorities that encryption is
But senior officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey, criticized moves by Apple and Google last year to tighten encryption on their mobile devices, warning that such protections could impede criminal investigations.
But U.S. officials have not gone as far as Cameron, who earlier this week called on banning certain encryption techniques that he believes hamper government snooping. The British leader also suggested certain messaging services, including Snapchat and WhatsApp, could be outlawed.
"Are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn't possible to read?" Cameron said in a speech Monday. "My answer to that question is: 'No, we must not.'"