Obama's Smart Pick for Cyber Czar: Howard Schmidt

By the Monitor's Board | The Christian Science Monitor, December 23, 2009 | Go to article overview

Obama's Smart Pick for Cyber Czar: Howard Schmidt


the Monitor's Board, The Christian Science Monitor


The president's cyber czar has the right credentials for this important job, but he'll need Obama's visible backing to do it.

After far too long, President Obama finally appointed a

"cyberczar" on Tuesday. Howard Schmidt has the credentials to

coordinate the government's defense against digital sabotage. Will

he also have the authority?

Appropriately, his experience is as deep as the cyberthreat is wide.

Mr. Schmidt has been involved with cybersecurity in government (the

George W. Bush administration), in the private sector (at eBay and

Microsoft), in law enforcement (at the FBI), and internationally

(heading up a nonprofit dedicated to this problem). He has both

technical and policy know-how.

He also served in the military, which this month confirmed that

Iraqi insurgents learned to intercept video feeds from unmanned

drones. (The signals have since been secured.)

Schmidt's job is immense - to orchestrate the military and

civilian branches of the federal government as they try to ward off

cyberattacks from hackers, terrorists, governments, criminals, and

others. That translates, for instance, into preventing the disabling

of electric, transportation, financial, and other critical networks.

Cyberattacks on public and private digital systems in the US are

increasing. In 2006, the Pentagon counted 6 million attempted

intrusions on its computers; last year, it was 360 million. US

businesses have also lost billions of dollars in intellectual

property to hackers.

In November, the Government Accountability Office found a 200

percent increase in reports of cybersecurity "incidents" at

federal agencies between 2006 and 2008. The GAO warned of

"significant weaknesses" and "pervasive vulnerabilities" at

the agencies.

While Americans may picture Afghanistan when they think of war,

cyberattacks on the US occur daily. On Tuesday, the Wall Street

Journal reported that the FBI is investigating a hacking into

Citigroup Inc. that resulted in the theft of tens of millions of

dollars - supposedly by Russian criminals. (Citigroup disputed the

story, and said no one had lost any money.

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