Obama Taps Former Microsoft Exec to Head Cybersecurity


After a seven-month search, President Obama has made his choice to head up the government's cybersecurity operations, selecting a seasoned veteran of the security community who has held high-profile positions in both the public and private sectors.

The White House this morning announced the appointment of Howard Schmidt to the newly created position of cybersecurity coordinator, a role that will bring considerable challenges as the administration seeks to articulate a clear cybersecurity policy in concert with Congress, the private sector, and state and local authorities.

Schmidt has held top security spots at tech heavyweights Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), and also headed up Bush administration cybersecurity policy for nearly a year and a half earlier in the decade.

Schmidt most recently served as president and CEO of the Information Security Forum, a nonprofit group that focuses on cyber threats and research.

"I bring to this challenge lessons learned during 40 years of experience in government, business, and law enforcement," Schmidt said in a video on the White House Web site.

Schmidt's appointment fills a position Obama had said he planned to create in May. At the time, the announcement coincided with the release of the report put together by a task force the President had commissioned earlier in the year to conduct a thorough review of the federal cybersecurity operation. schmidt_obama_official_200x180.jpg

In the time since, several names have been floated to fill the spot, which many observers have said could be a tough sell given the bureaucratic frustrations and reporting complexities it is likely to entail.

Melissa Hathaway, the official who led the cybersecurity review, resigned in August, reportedly expressing frustration at how long it was taking to fill the position.

Christopher Painter, the National Security Council's acting senior director for cybersecurity, had been leading the White House's cybersecurity operations throughout the interview process. Shared cybersecurity responsibility

While serving in the Bush White House, Schmidt drafted a cybersecurity strategy that followed closely on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, though critics have argued that the plan was generally ignored throughout the administration.

In his new job, Schmidt will be set up as a liaison between the White House and the many other stakeholders in cybersecurity policy. He will be one of the administration's point people on the Hill as lawmakers develop cybersecurity legislation, and will also be tasked with coordinating with federal, state, local, and tribal agencies.

Schmidt will further head up the administration's efforts to partner with the private sector, which owns and operates the vast majority of the nation's digital infrastructure.

"Ultimately no one -- not government, not the private sector, not individual citizens -- can keep us safe and strong alone," Schmidt said. "When it comes to cybersecurity, our responsibility is shared."

In his address in May, Obama went out of his way to cast cyber defense as an economic issue as much as a security challenge. That view is reflected in the reporting structure of the new position, as Schmidt will work with both the White House National Security Council and Economic Council.

That puts some barriers between the cybersecurity coordinator and the Oval Office, though John Brennan, the assistant to the President for homeland security and counterterrorism, said today that Schmidt would "have regular access to the President."

Schmidt said that his first priority would be to begin developing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that will seek to establish a unified approach among all stakeholders, with particular emphasis on fostering partnerships with the private sector and foreign nations. Part of that strategy will include protocols for an organized response to network attacks and breaches.

He also said he would promote research and development in technologies that could stave off future attacks, and oversee a national education and awareness campaign to encourage safe computing habits.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com. Based in Washington, D.C., Kenneth's coverage areas range from government regulation to e-commerce and online media.