President Obama greets new cybersecurity chief
President Obama greets new cybersecurity chief

Several key areas are to be addressed by Howard Schmidt as he begins his new job as the cybersecurity coordinator to the White House.

In a video address from the White House, Schmidt said he was honored to have been selected by President Obama and said that daily dependence on information technologies "present us with great opportunity and great danger."

Schmidt said, “Our lives have been enriched with technologies that are now part of the very fabric of our day-to-day lives, our dependence on these wonderful technologies continue to increase with each innovation as does our responsibility to protect our security and our privacy.

“Indeed, as President Obama has said, this cyberthreat represents one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation. As such, I look forward to working with our leadership from Congress, industry, federal departments and agencies, state local and tribal governments, as well as our international partners to ensure that our economic and national security interests are enhanced with our combined cybersecurity efforts.”

Schmidt further said that Obama had directed him to focus on several priority areas. These include developing a new comprehensive strategy to secure American networks; ensuring an organized and unified response to future cyber incidents; strengthening public/private partnerships here at home and international partnerships with allies and partners; promoting research and development of the next generation of technologies; and leading a national campaign to promote cybersecurity awareness and education.

“Ultimately not the government, not the private sector, not individual citizens can keep us safe and strong alone," Schmidt remarked. "When it comes to cybersecurity, our vulnerability is shared. And so it is our responsibility to ensure that our networks are secure, trustworthy and resilient.”

There has been an overall positive response to Schmidt's appointment.

W. Hord Tipton, executive director for (ISC)2, for whom Schmidt has served as a board member since 2004, congratulated Schmidt on his appointment.

“We congratulate Howard on this great honor and fully support the administration in its choice," Tipton said. (ISC)² has worked together with Howard on many important global and national information security workforce initiatives throughout the years and have always valued his insight and counsel."

Daniel Turner, CTO of Vistorm, an information security vendor, said: “In trying to solve really big problems, we have to respond with the really great minds of our age. Howard Schmidt is one of those minds. The appointment of Howard Schmidt as the White House's cybersecurity lead further demonstrates the importance placed behind protection for business and government bodies globally from cyberthreats. Schmidt will deliver vast experience and a wealth of knowledge following a similar appointment during the Bush administration.”

Amrit Williams, CTO of BigFix, an IT infrastructure management company, said: “I have worked with Howard and know him to be a highly competent individual that will have a positive impact on this administration's cybersecurity efforts.”

Secure Channel blogger Larry Walsh, said: “While many technology pros welcomed internet security being made a priority by the Obama administration, many in the private sector worried that the appointment of a Washington bureaucrat would bring many stringent and complicated regulations. The selection of Schmidt, known as an altruistic consensus builder, signals that the Obama administration will treat cybersecurity holistically and with the consultation of the private sector. It's a wise move, considering that much of the nation's critical digital assets – telecommunications, banking and finance, energy distribution, transportation – rests in the hands of the private sector.”

But not all responses have been positive. Williams commented on a mixed reaction to the appointment, stating that some are pointing to a lack of progress from previous administration attempts toward cybersecurity, of which Schmidt had been involved, while others point to a general lack of clear direction by the president.

“I would caution those that are quick to criticize that change takes time and this administration is working under a very different set of dynamics than previous administrations," Williams said. "I would also suggest that all concerned become involved and help to shape the future of our country. This is a positive move that will enable our government to better understand information security, its impact on our future, and hopefully drive the nation to implement and adopt more effective means for securing our critical infrastructure.”