Page last updated at 21:16 GMT, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

US appoints Howard Schmidt as cybersecurity chief

President Barack Obama greets his new White House Cyber Security Chief Howard A. Schmidt
President Obama emphasised cybersecurity while campaigning

The White House has appointed its cyber tsar, following a seven-month search.

Howard Schmidt, a former eBay and Microsoft executive who advised President Bush, was appointed after others turned down the job.

Mr Schmidt has been set the task of uniting various disparate agencies and organisations to shore up the country's defence against cyber attack.

In May this year, President Obama pledged to personally appoint someone to the post.

"I bring to this challenge lessons learned during 40 years of experience in government, business and law enforcement," said Mr Schmidt.

"In our digital world the information technologies we depend on every day present us with great opportunity and great danger," added Mr Schmidt in a video broadcast posted on the White House website.

National security

He said that the president had already directed him to focus on several priority areas.

These include developing a new strategy to secure US networks, ensuring an organised response to future cyber incidents and leading a national campaign for cybersecurity, awareness and education.

Some in the industry have warned of political pitfalls ahead as Mr Schmidt tries to pull together a number of government agencies and their various cybersecurity issues.

"I think it will be a very tough job. He's going to have to herd some cats," said Roger Thornton, CTO and founder of security vendor Fortify Software.

Cisco's chief security officer John N Stewart also suggested that Mr Schmidt had his work cut out for him.

"Today more than ever, we need greater collaboration between government and business leaders to help enable national security and public safety," he said.

In a letter posted on the White House website, John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said that protecting the internet was "critical to our national security, public safety and our personal privacy and civil liberties".

The White House's acting cyber-security head, Melissa Hathaway, stood down in August after complaining that the post did not allow her to implement necessary changes.

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