"I think in general it means (the U.S.) will advance the case of cybersecurity, and that's important," said Paul Smocer, the head of the technology policy division at The Financial Services Roundtable, a powerful lobbying group that represents the nation's biggest banks. "How much teeth versus how much gum there is, we'll see."
The cyberthreat to the U.S. has been heavily debated since the 1990s, when much of American commerce shifted online and critical systems began to rely increasingly on networked computers. Security experts began to warn of looming disaster, including threats that terrorists could cut off a city's water supply or shut down electricity. But what's emerged in recent years, according to cyber experts, is the constant pilfering of America's intellectual property by U.S. competitors.
"We have, as the U.S. government, set up lawn chairs, told the burglars where the silver is in the bottom drawer, and opened up the case of beer and watched them do it," Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, told CBS' "Face the Nation" this week.
The U.S. has been preparing a new intelligence estimate that details cyber espionage as a growing economic problem. One official told The Associated Press last week that the estimate was expected to cite more directly a role by the Chinese government and favor aggressive action against the Chinese government. The official was not authorized to discuss the classified report and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The report is expected to expand on a November 2011 report by U.S. intelligence agencies that accused Russia and China of systematically stealing American high-tech data for their own economic gain. China has denied the claims.
Richard Clarke, a former White House cybersecurity adviser during the Clinton administration, said that executive orders and intelligence estimates aside, the U.S. in 15 years of debate on the subject still hasn't answered the very practical questions of who exactly is in charge of stopping a cyberattack on commercial networks and at what point the government should deploy its own resources.
Follow Anne Flaherty on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AnneKFlaherty .