Obama Appoints Cyber Security Czar – Howard A Schmidt
Seven months into his term, President Obama has appointed Howard A. Schmidt to the role of cyber security chief. He will report to the National Security Council and will have regular access to the President.
Mr. Schmidt is an industry veteran who previously served the Bush White House. He was formerly the chief information security officer at Ebay, the chief information officer at Microsoft and worked in computer security for the Air Force, the Army and the FBI. The Obama administration is the first to promote this position to the level of a White House Director.
Cyber security has increasingly become a priority in the wake of a growing number of cyber attacks and reports of vulnerabilities in business and military computing systems. Obama was brought face to face with the issue during his campaign for the presidency when his campaign’s computer security was breached exposing critical information ranging from policy positions to travel plans.
Mr. Schmidt will be facing long running turf wars being waged among the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies over the conduct of defensive cyberoperations.
He and others serving in cyber security positions will also be trying to work out how to conduct offensive cyberoperations, and what the rules and tactics should be. One of the biggest fears in carrying out offensive attacks on computer systems is unintended consequences that damage civilian infrastructure.
In 2003 for example, the Bush administration had the technology to launch a cyber attack that would freeze the bank accounts of Saddam Hussein and cripple Iraq’s economy, giving Hussein no money for war supplies or to pay troops. The attack never happened though because of the fear that the effects of the attack would not be limited to Iraq and would create world-wide financial havoc. Attacks were carried out on Iraq’s military and government communications system, which resulted in cellular and satellite telephone service being shut off on the countries surrounding Iraq for several days.
I am heartened to see that the issue of cyber security is being taken more seriously by this administration and that attempts are finally being made to coordinate the efforts to protect our nation’s computer systems. Cyber warfare has become a very clear and present danger, one that could have deadly consequences leading to a further destabilization of our country’s economy and even the loss of lives without one terrorist ever stepping foot on our soil.
The vulnerabilities of our banking, government and military computer systems, the Federal Aviation Administration systems as well as the systems that are used for general communication and e-commerce have not been addressed sufficiently to this point and those vulnerabilities have led to dangerous security breaches.
In my opinion, the one issue that must be addressed immediately, particularly for the military, is that only about 1/5 of computer chips are produced in secure American facilities. Most computer chips, even those that are produced by American companies are produced overseas.
In fact only about 2% of the computer chips that are used in our military’s communications systems and weaponry are being produced in America. This is a major cause for concern as chips produced in unsecured plants can be infected with malicious software or Trojan horses that allow computer criminals to pilfer information or to even take over control of the machine that is being powered by the infected chip. Retired Army General Wesley Clark has referred to these types of infected chips as “the ultimate sleeper cell” and I agree. Domestic production must be supported and encouraged if we are to make a serious effort at protecting vulnerable systems.
Clearly, Mr. Schmidt has his work cut out for him. I wish him luck.
By Juval Aviv, President & CEO of Interfor Inc, Stategic Partner of Info Defense