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12/22/2009
09:46 AM
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Obama Names Cybersecurity Coordinator

Former Bush administration official and Microsoft security official Howard Schmidt is tapped to develop a federal cybersecurity strategy.


Intel Clarksdale

President Barack Obama greets his new White House Cybersecurity Chief, Howard A. Schmidt. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
(click for larger image)

Almost 7 months after President Obama announced he would personally select a new White House cybersecurity coordinator position to help orchestrate and integrate federal cybersecurity policies and agendas, the administration has finally named its man: former Bush administration official Howard Schmidt.

In a video posted on the White House website, Schmidt said that the President has directed him to focus on creating a new comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, developing a strategy to respond to future cyberincidents, strengthening public-private and international partnerships, pushing cybersecurity research and development and leading a cybersecurity awareness and education campaign.

“In our digital world, the information technologies we depend upon every day present us with both great opportunities and great danger,” Schmidt said in the video. “As president Obama has said, this cyberthreat represents one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation. I’m committed to bringing all stakeholders together around a new comprehensive cyberstrategy that keeps Americans secure and prosperous.”

Schmidt, who was president and CEO of the Information Security Forum, a nonprofit cybersecurity research firm, immediately before his appointment, has had a long career in cybersecurity. He served as top security official for both Microsoft and eBay, did cybersecurity work for the FBI, and spent time as cyber adviser to the Bush administration. He has also recently been serving in advisory roles for a number of cybersecurity companies, including McAfee, PGP Corporation, and Fortify.

In an interview with InformationWeek earlier this year, Schmidt pointed to three cybersecurity areas which he believes need particular improvement: encryption, strong authentication, and secure software development. "You constantly hear about breach after breach," he bemoaned.

In that interview, Schmidt expressed mixed feelings about the state of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and pending cybersecurity legislation and applauded efforts to push for common architectures across government IT systems. "People treat government agencies as independent controls unto themselves," he said. "We’re all doing these individual architectures which are tremendously complex. Everything has to be done separately and managed separately and that’s the enemy of security."

Schmidt’s name had been being bandied around for months as the possible appointee, but sources have said that he was not necessarily the White House’s first choice. Several others turned down the job, and former assistant secretary of Defense Frank Kramer was seen as a recent front runner.

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