President Barack Obama signed an executive order at a Stanford University summit encouraging the private sector to share cybersecurity threat information with other companies and the U.S. government.
"Just as we are all connected like never before, we have to work together like never before, both to seize opportunities and to meet the challenges of this information age," Obama said at today's Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection.
"It is one of the great paradoxes of our time that the very technologies that empower us can also be used to undermine us," he said.
The nation's power grids and critical financial, health and air traffic control systems are all run on systems connected to the Internet and create levels of vulnerability never seen before, Obama said.
"Foreign governments are probing these systems every day" and so it is an issue of public safety, Obama said.
Cyber-threats are challenges to U.S. national security, as the U.S. military and defense contractors are targeted by hackers from China and Russia.
"It can be used to undermine us and inflict great harm," Obama said.
American companies doing trillions of dollars of business are targeted by hackers for their trade secrets and intellectual property, he said, citing as an example the hacking of large amounts of email and other data from the Sony Pictures company by the North Korean government.
Banking and other online information used by consumers is also at risk, he said.
"This problem of how we secure this digital world is only going to increase," Obama said.
The executive order advises companies to create information sharing and analysis organizations to help companies and government share information about potential cyber threats.
Under the order, the information sharing would be voluntary and includes more government disclosure of classified threat information so that private network operators can more easily protect their systems.
The order also calls on the Department of Homeland Security to fund the creation of a nonprofit to develop a common set of voluntary standards for the information sharing organizations.
A fact sheet released Thursday by the White House says the executive order "ensures that information sharing...will include strong protections for privacy and civil liberties" based on standards outlined in the Fair Information Practice Principles.
Also at today's summit, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson moderated a panel on public and private collaboration on cybersecurity with the chairmen and chief executives of American Express, PG&E, Kaiser Permanente and Palo Alto Networks.
A second panel overseen by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker discussed cyber threats to companies and consumers with top executives of MasterCard, AIG, Intel and Bank of America.
Other speakers included National Security Council members Lisa Monaco and Jeff Zients, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook and Stanford President John Hennessey.
Around 4:40 p.m. today, Obama is expected to attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at a private residence in San Francisco.
The president will fly out of San Francisco International Airport on Saturday to Palm Springs in Southern California.
The president last visited the Bay Area in October on a fundraising trip.