ISF’s Howard Schmidt becomes US cybersecurity czar

As the new cybersecurity czar, he will have regular access to President Obama and serve as a key member of the National Security Staff. Schmidt has over 40 years of experience in government, business and law enforcement.

In an ISF statement, Schmidt said: “I am honored to have been selected by President Obama and look forward to returning to public service. I bring to this challenge lessons learned during over 40 years experience in government, business and law enforcement, and most recently as president and CEO of the Information Security Forum.”

Information security industry positive

The information security industry appears overall to be positive to the appointment of Schmidt as the new US cybersecurity czar.

Amrit Williamson, CTO at BigFix, said: “Schmidt, who also served as a cybersecurity adviser under President Bush, will be responsible for establishing, defending and coordinating cybersecurity across public and private critical infrastructure. I have worked with Howard and know him to be a highly competent individual that will have a positive impact on this administration’s cybersecurity efforts.

“There has been mixed reaction to the appointment. Some mention the lack of progress from previous administration attempts towards cybersecurity, of which Schmidt had been involved, others point to a general lack of clear direction by the President. I would caution those that are quick to criticize that change takes time and this administration is working under a very different set of dynamics than the previous administrations”, he added.

“This is a positive move that will enable our government to better understand information security, its impact on our future, and hopefully drive the nation to implement and adopt more effective means for securing our critical infrastructure.”

Neil Fisher, vice president, global security solutions at Unisys, added: “At a time when our vulnerability to online crime and computer hacking attacks is at its height, this appointment will have positive reverberations around the world. Howard Schmidt brings with him important lessons learned during the dot come boom (and subsequent bust), which have been largely forgotten by other cyber ambassadors to our detriment.”

Ken Silva, CTO at security vendor VeriSign, told the BBC: “While I am disappointed that it has taken this long, I am happy the government spent the time to get the right person for the job. What he brings to this job is the right level of senior government experience and industry experience. That is something that is hard to find.”

It has taken President Obama seven months to appoint the promised cybersecurity czar.


No stranger

Schmidt will have regular access to president Obama, who announced the search for a coordinator to pull together the federal cybersecurity effort in May, following the conclusion of Melissa Hathaway's cybersecurity review. Hathaway, who was the acting coordinator, had been a top candidate for the permanent position, but took herself out of the running ostensibly for personal reasons.

Hathaway is not the only person to have declined the job. Other individuals who were said to have been considered for the position included Franklin Kramer, a former Clinton assistant defense secretary, and RSA CEO Art Coviello, who reportedly declined the position, arguing that the coordinator would not report to the right people.

While Schmidt will have regular access to the Oval Office, the cybersecurity coordinator position officially reports to the National Security Council and the Economic Council.

Schmidt is no stranger to navigating political hierarchies. Aside from his tenure as chief information security officer at both eBay and Microsoft, where he was instrumental in setting up the Trusted Computing Security Strategies group, he is also a veteran of the White House. He was appointed by George Bush as the vice chair of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, and as special advisor for Cyberspace Security to the White House in December 2001 - probably the closest thing that there has been to the current position. 

He was also chief security strategist for the US CERT Partners Program for the Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Division. And he has worked at the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.



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