Making good on a promise he made in May to appoint someone to oversee the nation's cybersecurity efforts, President Obama on Tuesday introduced Howard Schmidt as the new White House Cybersecurity Coordinator. Schmidt has a long history in the information technology security space, having held high-level positions in the federal government as well as industry, including eBay, Microsoft and, since August 2008, as president and chief executive of the Information Security Forum, an international nonprofit focused on cyber risk and research.
"In our digital world, the information technologies we depend on everyday present us with both great opportunity and great danger for our national security, public safety and our economic competitiveness as well as our personal privacy," Schmidt said in a video posted to the White House blog on Tuesday. "Indeed, as President Obama has said, this cyber threat represents one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation."
Schmidt, who will serve as a member of the president's National Security Staff, is expected to focus on a number of priority areas set by Obama. These include developing a new and comprehensive strategy to secure U.S. networks, ensuring an organized and unified response to cyber threats and encouraging the private sector (which owns the vast majority of the U.S.'s critical infrastructure that hackers might target) to work with the government to improve security at places such as utilities and transportation hubs.
Former President George W. Bush appointed Schmidt as the Vice Chair of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and as the Special Adviser for Cyberspace Security for the White House in December 2001. Schmidt took over as Chair in January 2003 until his retirement from the government in May 2003.
High-level cybersecurity positions in the federal government have been a revolving door since 9/11, with several former officials resigning after brief tenures and complaining about bureaucratic interference. Schmidt's predecessor, White House acting cybersecurity czar Melissa Hathaway, walked away from that position in August after about six months, citing "personal reasons". The Wall Street Journal at the time, however, made clear that Hathaway (like many of her federal-level cyber security predecessors) had been embroiled in a power struggle that she was unlikely to win.
There was even some disagreement among Obama officials soon after the president announced the cybersecurity coordinator position regarding to whom that person would report. White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers over the summer insisted that the new coordinator report to him as well as President Obama, The Journal reports. The new coordinator, who does not require Senate confirmation, will actually report to Obama and deputy national security adviser John Brennan, according to The Journal.
Image: Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson