It was very encouraging to hear the updates from Howard Schmidt, the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator as reported from the meeting held at the White House on July 14. The meeting was obviously designed to show progress on the cybersecurity issue and demonstrate that the White house still intended to take a leadership role. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke attended the meeting as did IT Security leaders from the DoD, NSA, FBI, and several other agencies. Most importantly, the President himself made an appearance to provide his support, which was a key visual for Mr. Schmidt as he continues to get his hands around the role.
This blog has been consistently critical of the large gap between the announcement of the role of Cybersecurity Coordinator and the appointment of Mr. Schmidt. However, there are very promising signs that progress is being made and that Mr. Schmidt is a good fit for the role. I have been to numerous events where Mr. Schmidt has spoken, and he is obviously eager to take the cybersecurity masses to the public and be accessible.
I had the unique opportunity to speak briefly with Enrique Salem, the CEO of Symantec at a reception following Symantec’s Government Symposium last month and Mr. Salem is an enthusiastic supporter of Mr, Schmidt. This is consistent with the overwhelmingly positive feedback from everyone I have encountered in the industry that knows Mr. Schmidt or has firsthand experience working with him. He seems to be the right person for doing a delicate and challenging job.
When I worked at webMethods, CEO Phillip Merrick often used the metaphor of the railroad junction approach employed by the Union army in the Civil War. It was an important tactic of the Union to divide and attack the Confederacy by controlling important railroad junctions. Merrick was speaking toward controlling important junction points in electronic commerce, but I was reminded of the metaphor when thinking of the criticality between the defense of our country and cyber security.
The railroad junction approach is a representative tactic to a broader strategy of warfare: targeting all of the things that enable an enemy to wage war, thereby weakening that enemy and forcing a more rapid conclusion to hostilities. The United States has based much of our ability to wage war on our ability to effectively network information. That makes these networks a logical attack point for our adversaries, and we must do all that we can to prepare for that scenario and protect against such incursions. This is not limited to just the systems supporting the DoD – it is our financial systems, infrastructure, and transportation that are also at risk.
Progress relies on someone to lead policy as well as become an effective facilitator between the government and the industry. By all indications, Mr. Schmidt is that person, and by appearing at last week’s meeting the President continues to demonstrate that cybersecurity is a priority to the country and that Mr. Schmidt has his support.
As the saying goes, it is not about how you start but how you finish. We may not have agreed to the slow start regarding the appointment of the Cybersecurity Coordinator, but we like the early indications of the direction of the role under Mr. Schmidt. And we are hopeful for continued progress.