John Brennan, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, issued a letter to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), where he confirmed the White House is exploring a cybersecurity executive order.
"Following congressional inaction, the President is determined to use existing executive branch authorities to protect our nation against cyber threats," according to a copy of the letter released by Rockefeller. That includes "exploring an executive order to direct executive branch departments and agencies to secure the nation's critical infrastructure by working with the private sector."
After the Senate failed to vote on a cybersecurity bill, the White House drew calls from some Democrats, including Rockefeller, to step in and mandate cybersecurity protection measures given that both sides agreed attacks from hackers, hacktivists and state sponsored entities was an ongoing threat.
Brennan said in his letter that he agreed with Rockefeller that cybersecurity guidelines to protect everything from airports to "national broadcast systems" should be worked out between government and industry.
Brennan said that even if an executive order is issued, comprehensive legislation is still needed. "Executive branch actions under existing authorities cannot alter the reality that the United States Government will continue to be hamstrung by outdated and inadequate statutory authorities that the legislation would have addressed.
The White House supported a primarily Democrat-backed Cybersecurity Act of 2012 that Republicans countered was overly regulatory. Their bill, the SECURE IT Act, focused on information sharing rather than government/industry guidelines that Republicans argued would morph into government mandates.