- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The White House has tapped a corporate cybersecurity expert and former Bush administration official to lead the effort to shore up the country’s computer networks and coordinate better with companies that operate 80 percent of those critical systems.

Howard A. Schmidt, a former eBay and Microsoft executive, will become the government’s cybersecurity coordinator, weathering a rocky selection process that dragged on for months as others turned the job down.

In a letter posted on the White House Web site Tuesday, John Brennan, assistant to President Obama for homeland security and counterterrorism, said Mr. Schmidt will have regular access to the president and play a vital role in the country’s security.

Mr. Schmidt’s selection comes more than 10 months after Mr. Obama declared cybersecurity a priority and ordered a broad administration review.

A senior White House official said Mr. Obama personally was involved in the selection process and chose Mr. Schmidt because of his unique background and skills.

Mr. Obama released the findings of the cybersecurity review nearly seven months ago, vowing that the White House would name a cybercoordinator to deal with one of the “most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.”

U.S. government computer systems are being attacked or scanned millions of times a day. Hackers and cybercriminals pose an expanding threat, using increasingly sophisticated technologies to steal money or information, while nation-states probe for weaknesses in order to steal classified documents or technology or destroy the networks that run vital services.

Corporate computer security leaders have openly expressed frustration with the White House as movement on the job post stalled.

At the same time, cyberexperts and potential job candidates have complained that the position lacks the budgetary and policy-making authority needed to be successful. Mr. Schmidt will report to the National Security Council and closely support the National Economic Council on cybersecurity issues.

Mr. Schmidt’s selection suggests that economic and business interests in the White House held more sway in the selection process. Mr. Schmidt, president and CEO of the Information Security Forum, a nonprofit international consortium that conducts research in information security, has served as chief security officer for Microsoft and as cybersecurity chief for online auction giant eBay. He was reportedly preferred by Lawrence H. Summers, director of the economic council.

Roger Thornton, a cybersecurity expert and chief technology officer for Fortify Software, praised the choice. He said Mr. Schmidt understands the technology, has broad management experience and has worked well within the political arena, a key requirement for the White House post.

“I think he would be able to get people to compromise and move things forward,” said Mr. Thornton.

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