Staying a Step Ahead on Cybersecurity
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An Interview With Presidential Assistant Howard Schmidt
With a career spanning more than 40 years in government, business, and law enforcement, Howard Schmidt brings a unique and deep experience to his role as special assistant to the president and cybersecurity coordinator for the federal government. Schmidt recently sat down with Free Enterprise staff writer Sheryll Poe to discuss the shared responsibility of all citizens to protect against cybercrime.
Photo: Ian Wagreich
Free Enterprise: You’ve worked for household names such as Microsoft and eBay. How have your experiences in the private sector shaped your work in the government?
Howard Schmidt: The necessity to have cybersecurity in technology systems in both government and the private sector is the same. What’s different is the product. In the private sector, you have a product to protect and sell. In government, you are offering a service.
FE: Why is cybersecurity a growing issue of concern for public and private sector leaders?
HS: Our nation has grown dependent on what we now call cyber and information-related technologies. Our entertainment, our financial services, our power-generating systems, and our water systems are all dependent on technology. When you couple that with an increasing threat of malicious cyber attacks and loss of privacy, there’s a need for greater security of our digital networks and infrastructures. In the Information Age, the very technologies that empower us to create and build also empower those who would disrupt and destroy. Cyber attacks and their viral ability to infect networks, devices, and software must be the concern of all Americans.
FE: Do small businesses need to concern themselves with cybersecurity?
HS: Many of us know that the vast majority of businesses in the U.S. are small and medium size. For those businesses to be successful in today’s technology-enabled world, they have to embrace the very technologies that empower us to sell things internationally and provide services to customers in a changing environment.
But the resources they need to maintain those technologies often times are not as great as we see in large enterprises or government systems. While larger firms may have more to lose in terms of absolute dollars, the narrower profit margins under which smaller businesses typically operate make cybersecurity all the more important.
When you look at the changing nature of criminals out there, as large enterprises put more resources into cybersecurity, the criminals don’t give up and just go away. They look for other targets such as small or medium-size businesses. Good cybersecurity can provide a competitive advantage and allow businesses to protect themselves.
FE: What resources exist for small businesses to learn about the latest viruses, malware, spyware, etc.?
HS: There are a number of resources available from the government and nonprofit organizations. A few of the best resources are www.onguardonline.gov, sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, and many other federal partners; the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) at www.us-cert.gov; and www.staysafeonline.org, sponsored by the National Cyber Security Alliance, which is a partnership between government and industry. That website has a special section for small businesses.
FE: What are the biggest cybersecurity threats today, and where are they coming from?
HS: Data are the gold, the silver, and the diamonds of today. And a growing array of state and non-state actors such as terrorists and international criminal groups are targeting U.S. citizens, commerce, critical infrastructure, and government. These actors have the ability to compromise, steal, change, or completely destroy information. But they come from all over the world—individual and organized groups. Basically, there’s no shortage of threats.
FE: Tell us about the new Smokey Bear-style national campaign to promote cybersecurity awareness.
HS: The ultimate goal is to increase the level of understanding of cyber threats and empower the American public to be more prepared and secure. We launched the Stop. Think. Connect. campaign the first week in October in conjunction with National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. This national campaign urges the American public to stop and think before connecting to the Internet, sharing information online, or participating in online communities.