White House Appoints Former eBay and Microsoft Exec as Cybersecurity Coordinator

The White House has announced that former Google and Microsoft executive Howard A. Schmidt will become the U.S. government’s cybersecurity coordinator, responsible for leading the effort to lock down U.S. government computer networks and information systems, and coordinate security and privacy issues with the private companies that operate and maintain the vast majority of those systems.

Howard Schmidt and President Obama, Dec 2009

“Howard is one of the world’s leading authorities on computer security, with some 40 years of experience in government, business, and law enforcement,” wrote John Brennan, assistant to President Obama for homeland security and counter-terrorism, in a letter. “Howard will have regular access to the President and serve as a key member of his National Security Staff. He will also work closely with his economic team to ensure that our cybersecurity efforts keep the Nation secure and prosperous.”

Schmidt is currently president and CEO of Information Security Forum, a nonprofit information security research group. Previously, Schmidt served as chief security officer for Microsoft, and before that acted as eBay’s chief of cybersecurity. Schmidt has a deep background in computer forensics, and also has significant local and federal government experience: Schmidt also served in President George W. BUsh’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, and has worked for both the FBI and the National Drug Intelligence Center.

Schmidt’s appointment follows a drawn-out selection process that saw much bickering over potential appointees…and even had people turn down the post. Computer and policy experts have expressed frustration with the White House that the position remained unfilled many months after a cybersecurity review highlighted that attacks and probes on U.S. government and infrastructure computer systems happen millions of times a day. Still other policy makers have been dubious of the new position, noting that it lacks policy-making and budgetary authority.

The White House says Schmidt will have direct access to the president on cybersecurity matters, and will report to the National Security Council and work with the National Economic Council on cybersecurity issues.