WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Thursday urged companies to share information with each other about cyber threats and issued guidance making clear that doing so would not violate antitrust laws.
The new push comes as many top retailers and other companies have suffered major data breaches. Most recently, the "Heartbleed" bug was found to have exposed personal data to hackers, prompting Facebook Inc, Google and others to take steps to mitigate the impact on their users.
"Legitimate cyber threat sharing can help secure the nation's networks," James Cole, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Justice Department, told reporters in a briefing on new guidance the agency issued along with the Federal Trade Commission.
If companies don't discuss competitive information such as pricing or output when sharing cybersecurity details, they will not run afoul of antitrust laws, the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, Bill Baer, said.
Cole said he had heard concerns from some companies that they felt restricted in sharing details of cyber threats with others because of antitrust concerns, but declined to name the companies or discuss specific problems that had arisen.
Better sharing of cyber threat information among companies as well as between the private sector and the government have been a top concern in the U.S. government's effort to bolster the cyber defenses of the nation's critical industries.
As part of the effort, President Barack Obama last year signed an executive order, making it easier for companies to access data about online threats that is held by the government, among other things.
The government in February also introduced standards meant to help companies in nationally critical industries better defend against cyber attacks, though it is unclear how widely the voluntary measures are being adopted.
Several high-profile breaches this year have put a spotlight on corporate cybersecurity, particularly the massive theft of about 40 million payment card records plus 70 million other records, including addresses and phone numbers, belonging to customers of No. 3 retailer Target Corp.
(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha and Alina Selyukh; editing by Andrew Hay)