White House names retired Air Force general as first cyber security chief

September 8, 2016 3:28 PM EDT

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By Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday named a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general as the government’s first federal cyber security chief, a position announced eight months ago that is intended to improve defenses against hackers.

Gregory Touhill's job will be to protect government networks and critical infrastructure from cyber threats as federal chief information security officer, according to a statement.

The administration of President Barack Obama has made bolstering federal cyber security a top priority in his last year in office. The issue has gained more attention because of high-profile breaches in recent years of government and private sector computers.

U.S. intelligence officials suspect Russia was responsible for breaches of Democratic political organizations and state election systems to exert influence on the Nov. 8 presidential election. Russia has dismissed the allegations as absurd.

Obama announced the new position in February alongside a budget proposal to Congress asking for $19 billion for cyber security across the U.S. government. The job is a political appointment, meaning Obama's successor can choose to replace Touhill after being sworn in next January.

Touhill is currently a deputy assistant secretary for cyber security and communications at the Department of Homeland Security.

He will begin his new role later this month, a source familiar with the matter said. Touhill's responsibilities will include creating and implementing policy for best security practices across federal agencies and conducting periodic audits to test for weaknesses, according to the announcement.

Grant Schneider, who is the director of cyber security policy at the White House’s National Security Council, will be acting deputy to Touhill, according to the announcement.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)

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