Obama Appoints Howard Schmidt As U.S. Cybersecurity Czar

As White House cybersecurity coordinator, Schmidt will coordinate and oversee the implementation of cybersecurity policies and synchronization of the U.S. response to reduce the risk of a major attack to the country's digital networks. Schmidt will have direct access to the president and will report to the National Security Council.

Schmidt comes to the White House with 40 years of experience on his resume, which includes serving as the White House security advisor to George W. Bush, as well as long-held positions at eBay and Microsoft. He currently serves as president of the Information Security Forum, a consortium of corporations and public-sector organizations that works on cybersecurity issues.

"Cybersecurty matters to all of us. Protecting the Internet is critical to our national security, public safety and our personal privacy and civil liberties," said John Brennan, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, in an e-mail. "The very e-mail you are reading underscores our dependence on Information technologies in this digital age, which is why it seemed like a fitting way to announce that the President has chosen Howard Schmidt to be the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator."

The appointment finally fulfills a promise Obama made in February when he declared cybersecurity one of the nation's top priorities. Obama subsequently ordered a comprehensive 60-day cybersecurity review that examined national cybersecurity infrastructure and systems, while also announcing that he planned to appoint a coordinator to oversee cybersecurity efforts at the federal level.

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Hathaway was considered a prime candidate for the pending cyberczar position until she resigned from her post in August. Obama postponed the decision following Hathaway's resignation, generating speculation that cybersecurity might have taken a backseat to other issues or that the role might not be filled this year.

Meanwhile, security experts lauded Obama's decision and contend that the delayed decision constituted thoroughness and commitment to cybersecurity as a national priority.

"President Obama is very thoughtful and meticulous on public policy issues, He wanted to find the right person with the right background, who could get this job done, and focus on driving it and moving it forward," said Tom Gann, McAfee vice president of government relations.

While cybersecurity has taken a backseat in recent months to healthcare legislation and the war in Afghanistan, Gann said Schmidt's experience and direct access to the president would help enable him to enact legislation and initiatives that would move the cybersecurity effort forward.

Gann said one such area where Schmidt could make a difference would be driving the enforcement of FISMA policies, which require agencies to produce an annual report on their cybersecurity systems. Schmidt also has the experience to oversee security for critical infrastructure projects, such as telecommunications and financial systems, Gann said.

Gann said that while Schmidt had the wherewithal and skills to maintain the position, proof of his success would ultimately be revealed in the next 12 to 18 months.

'There's no doubt this is a tough job," Gann said. "It's the first time the White House has had this kind of capability. I think [Schmidt's] prospects are good, but it's a hard job and time will tell."