Updated on Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 2:48 p.m. EST
Howard Schmidt, a former police officer who parlayed a passion for technology into chief security roles at eBay, Microsoft and the White House, was appointed federal cybersecurity coordinator on Tuesday.
The White House announcement was confirmed by John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.
“Howard will have the important responsibility of orchestrating the many important cybersecurity activities across the government,” Brennan said in a letter to the White House email list. “Howard is one of the world’s leading authorities on computer security, with some 40 years of experience in government, business and law enforcement.”
In his role as cybersecurity coordinator, a position announced by President Obama last spring but which went unfilled for many months, Schmidt “will have regular access to the president and serve as a key member of his national security staff.”
Schmidt reportedly was chosen for the job after a number of other candidates declined, mostly out of concern that the job came with too much responsibility and not enough authority.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Schmidt will report to the National Security Council – not both to that body and to the National Economic Council, as previously planned.
Schmidt did not respond to a request for comment.
Marcus Sachs, executive director for national security and cyber policy at Verizon, told SCMagazineUS.com on Tuesday that Schmidt’s background makes him an ideal fit for the job. But to succeed, he will have to maneuver through Beltway bureaucracy.
“He’s been around pretty much all the corners of cyberspace, from a political, operational and corporate perspective,” Sachs said.”The main challenge for him will be the overwhelming political nature of cybersecurity.”
A lot of work awaits Schmidt, especially in the wake of a year that brought power struggles within federal government in regard to cybersecurity, the announcement of a new U.S. Cyber Command to protect military networks and a number of fresh cybersecurity bills moving their way through Congress.
Working in Schmidt’s favor, though, is that he is the first person to hold a position of this kind, meaning he can customize the role in whichever way he deems fit, Sachs said.
“Once Howard gets into the job, we’ll see what his own personality and skills bring to the table,” Sachs said. “Personality will define the position.”
Schmidt’s résumé is extensive.
After time in the U.S. military, including three tours of duty in Vietnam, he served as a police officer in Chandler, Ariz., before working with the FBI at the National Drug Intelligence Center.
Schmidt, a ham radio enthusiast, recalled recently in SC Magazine that he decided to pursue a career in IT security in the early 1990s after seeing the destruction that some of the early viruses, such as Michelangelo, caused.
Schmidt subsequently worked as the director of information security, chief information security officer and chief security officer at Microsoft and CISO at eBay. He also served as chief security strategist for the US-CERT Partners Program for the National Cyber Security Division through Carnegie Mellon University, in support of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In December 2001, he was appointed by President George W. Bush as the vice chair of the president’s critical infrastructure protection board and as the special adviser for cyberspace security for the White House, before departing in May 2003.
He currently is president of the London-based Information Security Forum, a nonprofit IT security think tank.
Schmidt will be tasked with bringing all of the digital security goings-on “underneath one umbrella,” said Patricia Titus, former CISO at the U.S. Transportation Security Administration and current CISO for Unisys Federal Systems, provider of technology services. In addition, he will be charged with helping both the public and private sectors effectively respond to the ongoing, rampant threat of data breaches.
“From what I know, he is well suited,” Titus told SCMagazineUS.com on Tuesday. “He has a very diverse background, which this position requires. I think we are at a critical time period and this announcement could not come at a better time.”
Schmidt is a CISSP and CISM and a professor of practice at the Georgia Tech’s GTISC, professor of research at Idaho State University, adjunct distinguished fellow with Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab and a distinguished fellow with the Ponemon Institute.
He is a longtime member of the SC Magazine editorial advisory board and a frequent speaker at industry events. In addition, he is the author of Patrolling Cyberspace: Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Data Security.