Howard Schmidt: Cybersecurity Battle 'Different' This Time
White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt on working with President Obama, gaining access to new resources, and the status of specific cybersecurity initiatives
By Bill Brenner , Senior Editor
March 24, 2010 — CSO —
When the White House tapped industry veteran Howard Schmidt as President Obama's cybersecurity coordinator in December, some were skeptical that he was the right choice. He had already fought the same battle in the last administration, and the cybersecurity czars who followed didn't last long.
Some also fretted that Schmidt's thinking was too old-school. Forrester Research senior analyst Andrew Jaquith, for example, declared that Schmidt needed to "clue up" in terms of his current thinking. Pointing to concerns Schmidt raised in a 2010 predictions article late last year, Jaquith said, "He said 'we're concerned about social networking.' Well, sure, we've known that for awhile. 'We're concerned about smart phone malware.' Good for him for expressing an opinion about something that's been expressed before. To me, though, there just wasn't much by way of real forward-looking predictions. I think he's fighting many of the last wars in 2010, and I'm hoping we can get a little more vision out of Mr. Schmidt."
In this interview with CSOonline, Schmidt addressed those concerns and explained how this time, things are different.
For starters, he said, the position he finds himself in is far different from the last stint. The position is brand new and the chain of command a lot shorter than what previous so-called cyber czars had to contend with. And President Obama himself is far more tech and cybersecurity savvy than previous presidents. The fact that he gave a major address on that one topic last May is proof of that, he said. It was in that address that Obama announced the creation of a cybersecurity coordinator who would operate from the West Wing.
"From my perspective, and you know I've been in this business a long time, it was unprecedented to hear the President, in the speech he gave last May, not only using terms like botnet, worms, viruses and Trojans but also understanding what they are and what the effects are," Schmidt said.
Since starting the job, Schmidt has found that Obama likes constant updates and asks a lot of questions. He asks for constant updates on where the public and private sectors stand, what are the economic impacts of what the agencies are doing and, perhaps most importantly, what does Schmidt's office need for additional resources?
Asked how often he meets with Obama, Schmidt said there's no set schedule. They talk on an as-needed basis. Meanwhile, he's working closely with people from across the White House staff on a daily basis, including people from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and National Security Advisor James L. Jones Jr.