Who Will Be Obama's Cyberspace Czar?

If president-elect Barack Obama heeds the advice of a blue-ribbon IT security panel, he'll create a new White House office for cyberspace to be headed by an adviser charged with coordinating the computer security efforts of federal departments and agencies.

In other words, a Cyber Czar.

But who would fill the role envisioned in the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) commission's recent 96-page report, "Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency?" ChannelWeb runs down the list of potential candidates for Cyber Czar.


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John Thompson, CEO of Symantec. Thompson's timing couldn't be more perfect. The CEO of Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec is stepping down next March after 10 years at the helm of the market-leading security software vendor. Thompson has the private sector connections valued by the CSIS commission as well as the experience of managing a top-notch team of IT security researchers and problem-solvers. His name has already been thrown around as a potential candidate for Obama's proposed Chief Technology Officer position, but a specific cybersecurity role seems more suited to Thompson's talents.


Richard Clarke, former chief counter-terrorism adviser on the NSC. Could the outspoken critic of the Bush administration be the first person to hold two separate "czarships" in the federal government? A fairly divisive figure, Clarke became a Democratic darling for bashing the Bush team's handling of intelligence prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, but has kept his name in the spotlight with a series of talks and think pieces on future terrorism, including cyberterrorism.


Howard Schmidt, president of the Information Security Forum. Schmidt's Cyber Czar credentials are a mile long -- He's served in prominent cybersecurity roles in government as well as putting in stints as a Chief Security Officer and Chief Information Security Officer at such corporate IT giants as eBay and Microsoft, where he co-founded the Trustworthy Computing Security Strategies Group now led by another Cyber Czar candidate, Scott Charney.


Scott Charney, head of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group. If anybody has an inside track on the new Cyber Czar job recommended by the CSIS commission, it's probably the guy who was one of four co-chairs on that commission. Charney brings a lot to the table -- before joining Microsoft, he led the Cybercrime Prevention and Response Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Prior to entering the private sector, he was chief of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, taking part in the prosecution of nearly every major hacker case in the country from 1991 to 1999.

Next: A New Powell Doctrine?


Colin Powell, former Secretary of State. Powell's natural positions in the Obama administration, State of Defense, are already taken for the time being. But the four-star general delivered arguably the most impactful endorsement of Obama in the presidential campaign, and there's considerable motivation to find a spot for him in the chain of command. Cybersecurity isn't exactly his bailiwick -- and the position would represent a major step down for Powell -- but what if he were to help build up the proposed National Office for Cyberspace (NOC) while Robert Gates keeps his seat warm over at the Defense Department? Ted "Series of Tubes" Stevens probably has a more viable shot at this job, but what's a list without at least one wild, off-base speculation?


Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco Systems. The naming of Warrior, also floated as a potential candidate for Obama's proposed CTO job, would place a South Asian in a prominent position in the Obama White House. Warrior's resume goes much deeper than that, of course -- in her top-level roles at Motorola and Cisco, she's built and sold solutions touching the wide range of technologies and markets comprising cyberspace, from telecommunications and networking infrastructure to silicon manufacturing and software development.


Stephen Northcutt, CEO of the SANS Institute. What can you say about a former Navy search and rescue crewman, white water raft guide and martial arts expert who's also one of the leading intellectual lights in the field of computer security? Sign him up, we say -- Northcutt is the kind of geek who'll reach through the Internet and slap a cybercriminal silly. His books are must-reads in the IT security world and his creds, including his very scary-sounding job as Chief for Information Warfare at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, are impeccable.


Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney. Obama may have to sign Fitzgerald up as Cyber Czar just to keep the relentless Brooklyn-born prosecutor from locking up every high-ranking office holder in Illinois. In a way, it's a perfect fit -- security knows no political parties and Fitzgerald is as nonpartisan as they get, going after Republicans like Dick Cheney's aide Scooter Libby and Democrats like Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich with equal tenacity. He's no IT guru, but Fitzgerald could delegate the technical stuff and do what he does best, root out criminals and throw the book at them.


Rod Beckstrom, head of the National Cyber Security Center. Short of tapping Linus Torvalds or Jimmy Wales, Obama couldn't steer the NOC in the direction of a Web 2.0 approach to security more than by naming Beckstrom to lead the new office. The co-author of "The Starfish and the Spider" and a pioneering derivatives trader, Beckstrom has brought his nonhierarchical, collaborative problem-solving methods to the IT war with terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in his current role as head of the Department of Homeland Security's NCSC. Beckstrom's "new new" approach to national cybersecurity would likely tilt less towards locking down data than to opening up its stewardship to more bright minds in more places.