ARRL

News

White House Names Ham as New Cybersecurity Coordinator

12/24/2009

On Tuesday, December 22, President Barack Obama named Howard A. Schmidt, W7HAS, as the new White House Cybersecurity Coordinator. According to the White House, Schmidt -- an ARRL member -- is one of the world's leading authorities on computer security, with some 40 years of experience in government, business and law enforcement and "will have regular access to the President and serve as a key member of his National Security Staff. He will also work closely with his economic team to ensure that our cybersecurity efforts keep the Nation secure and prosperous."

In a 2003 interview with The New Atlantis, Schmidt described cybersecurity as "the realization that computer systems affect our basic needs on a daily basis. Electricity, water, telephone -- these things are all run by computers, and my job is to work with owners and operators and government agencies to make sure that they continue to function properly and are not disrupted because of security events that then, in turn, affect our daily lives."

Schmidt told the ARRL that he credits Amateur Radio with getting him involved with technology: "In high school, one of my friends was a ham and he got me interested in shortwave radio, which in turn got me into building shortwave radios and equipment, many from Heathkit. As I got older, I took courses from NRI and Bell and Howell in electronics and built a number of projects, preparing me for my first ham radio ticket. I love technology, and it was Amateur Radio that caused me to build my first computer -- a Sinclair ZX-80 to use for EME calculations. I studied all about the OSCAR systems and would build equipment to monitor when they would pass within range of Arizona. Building these computers to support my ham radio hobby gave me the technical skills that I need to not only start doing computer crime investigations and work on the early stages of computer forensics, in turn enabling me to start working on cybersecurity issues."

Schmidt is no stranger to the White House -- he served as a cyber-adviser in President George W. Bush's White House. After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush appointed Schmidt as the Vice Chairman of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and as the Special Adviser for Cyberspace Security for the White House. While at the White House, he assisted in the creation of the US National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, becoming Chairman in January 2003. In May 2003, Schmidt retired from the White House after 31 years of public service in local and federal government.

Schmidt as a Ham

Schmidt has been an Amateur Radio operator for more than 30 years. "I was first licensed in the late 1970s as a Technician class licensee with the call sign WB7NUV," he told the ARRL. "I did a lot on 2 meters, 70 cm and on Packet. The TAPR group out of Tucson was real inspiration to me as I found the work they were doing absolutely wonderful. I started as a part of the Arizona Repeater Association (ARA) and lived for our annual hamfest at Ft Tuthill in Flagstaff."

Back in the 1980s, Schmidt told the ARRL that he tried moonbounce and had "a full shack of RTTY machines -- Teletype Corporation models 15 and 19 and even a model 21. I would spend weekends printing reams of pictures from Ricky, W0CKY, and all of the great TTY pictures he would transmit. I still have my Collins KWM 2A, 312B station console and accessories. While I have not used it for years, it is one of my treasured possessions. Through the years, I had about every type of HF radio made and even have my Collins R-388 and R-390 in a 19 inch rack. I will never forget the day we were able to talk to Southern California on a 2 meter handheld with the repeaters we had from Central Ariz. During the '100 year flood' in Arizona, the community of Rainbow Valley was essentially cut off from the rest of the state to the north when a bridge and power lines were washed away. Using ham radio equipment, we were able to coordinate moving in food, water, medical supplies and generators from the Air Force base I was working at (then Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field) and work with the county sheriff's office to coordinate support."

Schmidt said that as with many other things, his love for Amateur Radio took a back seat to work, family and life in general: "While I got rid of all of my RTTY equipment back in the early 90's, I have continued to follow all of the great advances of ham radio." He said that only just recently, he got back into the hobby after what he called "an administrative error."

"Someone with a call very similar to mine upgraded to Extra class and when the form was sent to FCC, they mistyped one letter and it was my call that was submitted," he explained. "You can imagine my surprise when I received my Extra class license and new call in the mail. When I tried to find out what happened I was told (wrongly) that I was probably 'grandfathered.' I went out and bought an all band/all mode rig, antennas, power supplies, batteries -- everything I needed to outfit my shack. When all was said and done, we got the error fixed, but by that time, I was hooked on Amateur Radio all over again. I am now in the process of doing a room addition to be my new ham shack! I rejoined ARRL and now have room full of new gear waiting for the remodel to be done. Thanks to what I learned from the many hams on Web sites, I even built in PVC pipes through the walls to run my antennas."

Schmidt's Rise to Cybersecurity Czar

Schmidt began his government service in 1967 -- starting with a tour in the US Air Force -- both in active duty and in the civil service. After leaving the Air Force in 1983, he joined the Chandler (Arizona) Police Department, serving on the SWAT team and the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Unit; he formed and led the Special Enforcement Team. In 11 years as a local first responder he dealt with numerous issues surrounding emergency response to local incidents. While on the police force, he was instrumental in selecting, designing and the operation of interoperable communications and a public safety response system. Schmidt left the police department in 1994 to join the FBI at the National Drug Intelligence Center to head up the Computer Exploitation Team.

Schmidt went on to become a Supervisory Special Agent and Director of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations' (AFOSI) Computer Forensics Lab and Computer Crime and Information Warfare Division. In 1996, while serving in that position, he established the first dedicated computer forensics lab in the government, which was the basis for the formation of the Defense Computer Forensic Laboratory (DCFL). In 1997, Schmidt joined Microsoft as the Director of Information Security, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and Chief Security Officer (CSO), leaving in 2001 to join the White House. When he retired from government service in May 2003, he joined the online auction site eBay as their Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer and Chief Security Strategist.

Throughout his industry career, Schmidt has served as a reservist in the National Guard and Army. He served in the Arizona Air National Guard as computer communications specialist from 1989-1998, then transferred to the US Army Reserves as a Special Agent in the Criminal Investigation Division where he continues to serve with the Computer Crime Investigations Unit at CID HQ. He has testified as an expert witness in federal and military courts in the areas of computer crime, computer forensics and Internet crime.

After Schmidt retired from eBay, he started his own consulting firm, R&H Security Consulting. In September 2008, he took over as President and CEO of Information Security Forum Ltd; he remains CEO until he begins his White House appointment in January 2010. He is also a board member of the Finnish security company Codenomicon, International President of the Information Systems Security Association and board member of the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, commonly known as (ISC). In October 2008, he was named one of the 50 most influential people in business IT by the readers and editors of Baseline Magazine.

Schmidt serves on the Executive Committee of the Information Technology Sector Coordination Council. He is a member of the High Technology Crime Investigation Association, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He has testified before congressional committees on computer security and cyber crime and has been featured on BBC, ABC, CNN, CNBC and Fox TV discussing cybersecurity, investigations and technology. He is the author of Patrolling Cyberspace, Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Data Security and a contributor to The Black Book on Corporate Security.

Now that Schmidt has rediscovered how much fun Amateur Radio can be, he has no plans to let his enjoyment pass him by again. "I have my multi-band handheld transceiver next to my suitcase to take back to DC with me," he told the ARRL. "I hope to set up a station once I get settled. I do not plan on letting any more years slip by and not enjoying this great hobby."



Back