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Cybersecurity Chief Confronts Google Attack, Cloud Security

New to the job, Howard Schmidt's priorities include developing an organized response to attacks on American systems, private-public partnerships, and R&D.

The nation's new cybersecurity coordinator, Howard Schmidt, says the task of overseeing government-wide computer security has been "non-stop" in his first two weeks on the job.

Following the December announcement of his appointment by President Obama, Schmidt immediately had a cybersecurity crisis on his hands: Google's disclosure of a cyber attack on its system from within China. "I think everybody in the world who's in the security business is thinking about or working on that issue right now," Schmidt said in a brief interview at the Congressional Internet Caucus' annual State of the Net conference, where he gave his first public speech since taking office.

Since meeting with President Obama a few weeks ago, Schmidt has been working with federal CTO Aneesh Chopra and federal CIO Vivek Kundra on the requirement for secure cloud computing architectures and other issues.

Schmidt didn't offer a timeframe for when the White House would introduce a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, but he hinted at where he might be looking to affect change. Schmidt pointed to supply chain management and education as weak links in cybersecurity. His priorities include developing an organized, unified response to attacks on American systems, fostering private-public partnerships, and addressing R&D needs.

One of the main concerns expressed about Schmidt's position before he took office was that it carried no real budget authority, but Schmidt waves that aside. "I don't believe that if you don't have the budget authority, you can't affect change," he said, noting a recent groundswell of support from policy-makers for cybersecurity efforts.

Another question has been whether Schmidt has the President's ear and the authority to make policy. He reports to both the National Economic Council and the National Security Staff, rather than to the President.

"I was particularly pleased and it made me feel good that there is a direct link to the National Security Staff as well as the National Economic Council," he said in his speech. "By being dual-hatted, it gives us a much broader perspective and helps us to have balance. It's important to understand we have a foot in both camps and utilize both camps."

Schmidt said privacy would be a key component of any cybersecurity plans he helps to develop. "Privacy and security are two sides of the same coin," he said. "As I was coming into this position, I was always sure that we had the discussion about privacy."

Schmidt took over for Chris Painter, who was acting in an interim capacity. Painter kept things going forward, Schmidt said, adding that he hopes to keep him at the White House "as long as I can keep him." Schmidt has a staff of about 10 working on issues from privacy to intelligence.

Register now for Black Hat DC, the largest and the most important security conference series in the world. It happens Jan. 31-Feb. 3, 2010, in Arlington, Va. Find out more and register.

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