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Contributing writer

Infosec mourns over Howard Schmidt, who helped make the country a safer place

Mar 03, 20178 mins
IT LeadershipTechnology Industry

Howard Schmidt advised both President Brack Obama and George W. Bush on cybersecurity. He is remembered as a mentor, a communicator, and an educator

Howard Schmidt, who passed away yesterday morning at his home after a battle with cancer, was a storied figure in world of cybersecurity.

He advised both President Brack Obama and George W. Bush on cybersecurity. He was a CSO at Microsoft and a CISO at eBay. He led several industry groups, and wrote books on cybersecurity.

But when security professionals remember him, it is not so much for his technical accomplishments as for the impact he had on the people around him. He is remembered as a mentor, a communicator, and an educator.

“He does have a very storied path of accomplishment,” said Mary Ann Davidson, CSO at Redwood City, Calif.-based Oracle Corp. “From a security standpoint, he had a tremendous impact, the many roles he played, the work in the white house.”

Davidson first met Schmidt when he was at Microsoft. Schmidt joined the company in 1997, and served as the director of information security, as CISO, and as CSO.

“I do not think I would have had the professional success I’ve had if not for Howard,” she said. “He was just so generous for so many people. He was the most generous colleague you could possibly imagine. He drew people into his orbit, and he treated the lowly security newbie the same way as the very senior executive. He was very kind, very thoughtful. When he engaged with you, you felt like the most important person in the room. How many people can you say that about?”

It was those personal connections that have created the biggest impact on the industry, she said.

“The ripple effect has to do with the lives he touched,” she said. “All those individuals who he encouraged with a kind word, drawing them into something, helping them gain experience and go forth and do great things in security.”

One of those people was Kurt Van Etten, vice president, product management at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based RedSeal, Inc., who served as the director of information security programs at eBay under Schmidt.

“Howard was my first introduction into the information security space while he was the CISO at eBay,” he said. “He did a lot for the team members to develop their careers, introduce them to other members in the security field, making sure to help them advance. In both the jobs I’ve applied for since I left eBay, Howard was one of my references, and both times he called immediately, spent 30 minutes to an hour with the hiring manager.”

Schmidt took the time to make the call even though he was busy at the White House.

“That shows his passion with taking care of his team members,” Van Etten said. “Having such an authoritative person take that kind of time helped me land these positions and I’m very grateful for that.”

In government and in professional organizations, Schmidt’s passion for security and his rare ability to talk about the subject with people from very different backgrounds, drew talent to him.

“He brought in really great people,” said Ari Schwartz,managing director of cybersecurity services and policy at Washington, D.C.-based law firm Venable LLP. “He had the best mix of folks from the CIA, the FBI, State, the Commerce Department. Howard was just really great at making connections. He was really good at knowing who needed to talk to who, how to talk to a certain audience about security.”

Schwartz worked at the Commerce Department when Schmidt was first ever White House cybersecurity coordinator. Later on, Schwartz himself moved to the White House, were he served as the director for cybersecurity privacy, civil liberties and privacy and then as the special assistant to the President and senior director for cybersecurity.

According to Schwartz, Schmidt could talk to people from the privacy side and understand what they wanted. He could talk to bankers, to retailers, to many different audiences.

“It’s very rare, to be able to do that,” Schwartz said. “There just aren’t that many people who have been able to speak to all those audiences. And as security has become a bigger and bigger issue, we see the need for those types of people more and more.”

Adrienne Hall, general manager at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp.: “Howard was a pioneer in cybersecurity, and we were fortunate to have him as our chief security officer from 1997 to 2002. We extend our sympathy to Howard’s family, friends and colleagues.”

Darin Anderson, co-founder and CEO at San Diego-based CyberUnited, Inc.: “Howard was a great relationship person and mentored me on two boards of directors that we were on together. He’s somebody who definitely made the world a safer place with his good heart, good will, and tireless energy.”

Carl Wright, general manager at San Mateo, Calif.-based TrapX: “Howard Schmidt was a leader and visionary in recognizing the impending escalation of the cybersecurity threat years before it was visible to most of us. Over his last years in government service within the Obama administration, Howard was able to bring important and progressive changes to cybersecurity policy that continue to positively impact all of us. Howard’s past military service was also important – it helped shape his views and tolerance in positioning the right response to increased nation state cyber threats. The cybersecurity industry has lost a great mentor and a great leader.”

Gadi Evron, co-founder and CEO at Pleasanton, Calif.-based Cymmetria, Inc.: “I’m saddened to hear about Howard A. Schmidt’s passing. He helped build cybersecurity as a discipline, helped many, and did a lot for the security of the world at large — in and out of the White House. He also advised Cymmetria for a while, helping me when I got things started. I’ll need to process for a while. He will be missed by many.”

Hank Thomas, partner and COO at Washington, DC-based Strategic Cyber Ventures: “I remember in 2010 when Howard was instrumental in developing an unclassified description of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. For the cyber community, it served as the first big publicly available announcement of the government’s massive financial push into the shadowy world of cybersecurity. It opened the conversation to others critical to solving what is clearly our nation’s most pressing national security issue, impacting everything from our economy to our defense. His efforts led to the rapid development of many of the public-private partnerships that are instrumental to our cybersecurity posture today.”

Jim Reavis, CEO at Seattle-based Cloud Security Alliance: “Howard was a key figure in many of the industry’s seminal milestones, from the launch of Trustworthy Computing at Microsoft to the establishment of a cybersecurity capability in the federal government in the wake of 9/11. Howard was a bundle of energy that was fueled by intense patriotism and a great sense of humor. He had a friend in every port, and although he is gone too soon, he accomplished more in his time than any of us can dream to match. Godspeed Howard, and thank you for your wisdom and friendship.”

Marios Damianides, past ISACA board chair and partner at London-based Ernst & Young: “First, my condolences to Howard’s family for their loss. It is a sad day for all of us, including his friends, colleagues and the security world. I worked with him some years back when we were working on closer alignment between our respective organizations — ISSA and ISACA. It was my honor to present Howard with an honorary CISM certification in 2003, and his contributions as a member of ISACA’s IT Governance Advisory Panel proved invaluable. He has always been a terrific leader and visionary in the security world and was not afraid to share perspectives and be provocative. He served his country with dignity and was always proud of that service as well as his contributions to the security industry and thinking. He will be missed.”

Paul Calatayud, CTO at Overland Park, Kansas-based FireMon: “I had the privilege of meeting Howard a few times when I was CISO. I found his understanding of the cyber industry truly fascinating and, more important, consumable by the masses. When you are in our field, the biggest challenge is not understanding the threats, it’s being able to apply the threats to business and national state leaders to allow them to be able to make key decisions. Howard had this gift and I truly respected him for his leadership.”

Michael Barrett, founder and CEO at Mountain View, Calif.-based Stealth Security, Inc.: “I first met Howard back almost exactly two decades ago, when he started as CISO at Microsoft. I stayed in contact with him over the intervening years, and count him as one of my good friends in the cybersecurity business. As I was the first CISO at PayPal and he had just left the job as CISO at eBay a couple of months before I joined, I leaned on him a lot about ‘where the bodies were buried’ and what the political landscape was. He was incredibly helpful to me over that period of time, and a big part of my initial success there can be directly attributed to the sage advice he gave me. In fact, that was another of Howard’s characteristics – he always ‘paid it forward’ and did what he could to help those more junior in the industry. Even if you hadn’t been directly helped by Howard, the fact that he was such a public role model for how it should be done was inspiring in its own right.”

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