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Obama Names Former Bush Official as White House Cybersecurity Czar

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WASHINGTON, December 22, 2009 – President Obama finally announced Tuesday that Howard Schmidt will serve as White House cyber security coordinator.

“The very email you are reading underscores our dependence on information technologies in this digital age, which is why it seemed like a fitting way to announce that the President has chosen Howard Schmidt to be the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator. Howard will have the important responsibility of orchestrating the many important cybersecurity activities across the government,” reads a White House email announcement by John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

“Protecting the internet is critical to our national security, public safety and our personal privacy and civil liberties. It’s also vital to President Obama’s efforts to strengthen our country, from the modernization of our health care system to the high-tech job creation central to our economic recovery,” wrote Brennan.

Brennan said Howard will have regular access to Obama, serve as a key member of the president’s national security team, and work closely with the White House economic team.

Schmidt has served as chief information security officer for eBay and as chief security officer for Microsoft. He was appointed by former President Bush to serve as Vice Chair of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and as the Special Adviser for Cyberspace Security for the White House in December 2001.

He has worked for the FBI’s National Drug Intelligence Center, where he headed the Computer Exploitation Team, and served as president of the Information Systems Security. Schmidt earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix.

James Lewis, director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in response to the announcement that Obama made a smart move.

“The administration has started a lot of initiatives on cyber at the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and State Department, and they need someone to make sure it all fits together. They also need to rewrite the National Cyber Strategy, and having someone to honcho that process is essential. The big challenge will be to avoid recycling old ideas,” said Lewis.

Business Software Alliance President Robert Holleyman also voiced support for Obama’s decision. “We are pleased with President Obama’s unprecedented and continued personal leadership in bringing cyber security to the forefront of national priorities,” he said.

Macon Phillips wrote on the White House blog Tuesday that individual’s can take a number of steps to support the nation’s cyber security efforts. Phillips recommends people keep their security software and operating systems up-to-date and try to protect personal information online.

“If your computer gets hacked, the effects may be obvious (e.g., deleted or corrupted files), or they may be subtle (e.g., slow computing performance). As a first step, you should scan your computer with updated anti-virus software. You may wish to get professional assistance through your computer’s manufacturer, computer retail store, or local computer technician. You can also alert the appropriate authorities by contacting your Internet Service Provider or the Internet Crime Complaint Center. The Federal Trade Commission can assist if you are subject to identity theft. You can also forward spam or phishing emails to the FTC at spam@uce.gov,” said Phillips.

Added Leslie Harris, President of the Center for Democracy and Technology: “President Obama has outlined an ambitious cybersecurity agenda we have full confidence that Howard Schmidt has the knowledge and skills to lead the federal government in the execution of that plan.”

“The Administration’s sixty-day review of cybersecurity efforts include  strong commitments to ensure protections for individual privacy are built-into any policy involving national cybersecurity.  CDT has been tracking the progress of this ‘cybersecurity privacy checklist’,” said Harris.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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