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President Obama's secret directive on cyber ops

President Obama has reportedly signed a secret directive that sets out rules for how the military might get aggressive in the face of a cyber attack.

Get to know this phrase: Cyber Ops. President Obama has reportedly signed a secret directive that sets out rules for how the military might get aggressive in the face of a cyber attack. The order acknowledges that the military response to a computer attack isn't just battening down the hatches on government computers to stop hackers or malicious software.

Washington Post national security correspondent Ellen Nakashima found out about the directive and says it spells out what's considered defensive versus offensive. Following the presidential directive, she says the Pentagon is now drawing up rules of engagement to give commanders some leeway to act against a cyber threat. 

"It's a first step," says Nakashima. "It sets a precedent in that the military will be able to take some defensive action outside government networks in defense of the nation without having to get presidential permission. Start from there, and the more people get comfortable with that idea -- that the military can take these actions and not cause huge collateral damage -- then maybe they'll be able to get a little more as the years go by. But they want to start somewhere."

The Obama Administration wants some private companies to harden their defenses against cyber attacks via the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, but the secret presidential directive is about readying the government response.

"This is more about the scope and legal authorizations of how the government uses it's offensive capabilities," says Jake Olcott, from the cybersecurity risk management firm Good Harbor. The administration is expected to resume its push for cybersecurity legislation in the new term. "To the extent that the two are intertwined that's great, but they're both important debates to be having," he says.


Let's go on a quick field trip. Our innovation itinerary starts at Virginia Tech-- the Materials Science and Engineering department. A team led by professor Shashank Priya created a tiny component inside cellphones to do a simple but important task.

"The goal of the project is to capture small amounts of movement," says Priya, "and convert that into electricity."

Priya's team put zinc oxide on top of silicon, which gins up a bit of current when your phone gets jostled in your pocket. The stuff can generate enough charge for a last emergency call on a phone with a dying battery. For more juice, Priya is working on a tiny wind turbine you can take on camping trips.

Next in our innovation itinerary, Seoul,  South Korea, where Samsung is working out the kinks on mobile phones that bend.  The Wall Street Journal is reporting the flexible displays could hit the market next year.  Why all this R & D to make the Gumby of cellphones? To make handsets that don't shatter and possibly have screens with funky shapes.

Last, we go to space. According to the journal Nature Geoscience, U.S. government scientists have a new way to track changes in the outer reaches of the atmosphere caused by the same carbon dioxide linked to climate change. More carbon dioxide can cool the outer atmosphere, lessening its drag on satellites. Those changes  can hurt a satellite's orbit. Tracking the temperature variations gives scientists a way to help satellites stay on track.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio
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