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The Cybersecurity Czar's First Big Test

I'm still waiting for Howard Schmidt, the new cybersecurity czar, to weigh in on the Chinese cyberattacks revealed this week. Sure, Chinese hackers going after American interests and human rights activists is nothing new to the IT security world, but this latest development is big, and it could be a defining moment for Schmidt's new post.
I'm still waiting for Howard Schmidt, the new cybersecurity czar, to weigh in on the Chinese cyberattacks revealed this week. Sure, Chinese hackers going after American interests and human rights activists is nothing new to the IT security world, but this latest development is big, and it could be a defining moment for Schmidt's new post.The administration hasn't remained silent about the attacks, however: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has demanded "an explanation" from the Chinese government about Google's revelation on Tuesday about a wave of targeted attacks on U.S. firms by hackers in China. That sent a serious diplomatic message, for sure. (Whether the Chinese government is actually taking it seriously is another thing). And a White House spokesman told The Washington Post today that the attacks are "troubling." The feds are "looking into to it," he said.

Now is the time for Schmidt to step in and set the agenda for that public-private partnership the administration has touted for cybersecurity. Google's and Adobe's rare, very public revelations about the attacks suffered by their firms and others represent a significant shift, and a large number of U.S. companies have been thrown together as common victims of Chinese espionage and cyberattacks. Google could well be trying to save face by using this as an excuse to get the heck out of China so it no longer has to battle the censors and market there, but this latest series of attacks has basically forced industry and government to deal with this together, whether or not they like it.

James Mulvenon, director of the Defense Group's Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, says while these attacks are more of a symptom of the larger trade (and espionage) problems the U.S. has with China, the cyberattacks shed some light on the threats to the U.S.'s technology industry and economy: "They're striking at the heart of the American technology economy," Mulvenon says.

Schmidt can tackle this as an economic threat or as a cybersecurity threat, but ideally he'll address it as both. I'm waiting.

-- Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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