President Obama Picks Cybersecurity Czar

By Matthew Harwood

Seven months after calling cybersecurity critical to "public safety and national security," President Barack Obama today will name his pick for the nation's first cybersecurity czar.

According to The New York Times, the position will go to veteran cybersecurity professional Howard A. Schmidt:

The decision to appoint Howard A. Schmidt, an industry executive with government experience who served as a cybersecurity adviser in the Bush administration and who also has a military and law enforcement background, is seen as a compromise between factions. Government officials and industry executives say there has been a behind-the-scenes dispute over whether strict new regulations are necessary to protect the network that increasingly weaves together the vast majority of the world’s computers.

Upon assuming office, President Obama ordered a 60-day review of the nation's cybersecurity posture in mid-February. Released in late May, the review's chief recommendation was for the President to"[a]ppoint a cybersecurity policy official responsible for coordinating the Nation’s cybersecurity policies and activities."

An administration official told the Times that Schmidt will report to the National Security Council (NSC) and not to both the NSC and the National Economic Council as previously planned. He will also have regular access to the President, the official said. The Washington Post gets more specific, reporting Schmidt will report to deputy national security adviser John O. Brennan.

Schmidt's job will be daunting. He must "coordinate cybersecurity policy across the federal government, from the military to civilian agencies. Schmidt's appointment comes as the Pentagon launches a major new 'cyber-command' unit up and running and the Department of Homeland Security works to improve protection of civilian networks," according to the Post.

In his May speech announcing the review's report, President Obama described the country's dependence on cyberspace. "We count on computer networks to deliver our oil and gas, our power and our water," he said. "We rely on them for public transportation and air traffic control. Yet we know that cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid and that in other countries cyber attacks have plunged entire cities into darkness."

The president's warnings have also been underscored by other big security breaches.

Over the past year, hackers have broken into the computer networks of many high-profile public and private U.S. institutions, including the Defense Department's enormously expensive Joint Strike Fighter program and the Air Force's air-traffic-control system. Cyberthieves have reportedly stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from U.S. banks, according to the FBI.

Aside from his advisor role in the Bush Administration, Schmidt's cybersecurity resume includes working as Microsoft's chief security officer and then as Ebay's chief information security officer. His government service also includes serving almost two decades in the Air Force as well as heading the FBI's computer exploitation team at its National Drug Intelligence Center throughout the 1990s, reports the Post. Schmidt currently serves as president of the Information Security Forum, an independent, nonprofit organization that "that supplies authoritative opinion and guidance on all aspects of information security," according to its Web site.

♦ Photo of President Barack Obama by Elizabeth Cromwell/WikiMediaCommons

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