Obama's likely pick for cybersecurity head remains murky

Speculation is muted as experts ponder the role of the office

There is surprisingly little buzz circulating about who President Barack Obama might choose to lead cybersecurity policy. Although a number of analysts have ideas about the qualities the person filling the position might need, no one is naming names of likely contenders yet — partly because it remains unclear what the eventual appointee will actually do.

Obama announced the position last week as part of his comprehensive cybersecurity plan. The coordinator’s role will be to develop a national cybersecurity strategy. However, beyond that, Obama left the specifics open-ended. The announcement came after a 60-day review of the current state of federal cybersecurity, which former Bush aide Melissa Hathaway conducted at Obama’s behest.

Rohyt Belani, co-founder and managing partner of computer security firm Intrepidus Group, said the ideal candidate would combine qualities from three people: security consultant Bruce Schneier; Richard Bejtlich, director of incident response at General Electric; and Chris Eagle, a senior lecturer and associate chairman of the Computer Science Department at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Belani said Schneier has “an ability to focus on what matters and call out silly bureaucratic processes that do little to help security.” Bejtlich’s strength is a passion for digital security, and Eagle knows where the needs are for offensive capabilities, Belani added.

Rod Beckstrom, who was appointed in March 2008 as director of the Homeland Security Department’s National Cybersecurity Center, resigned in March 2009 citing insufficient funding and lack of cooperation from other federal agencies. He said Obama needs to choose someone who is ready for a rough ride.

“The national cyber effort needs a refocusing immediately,” Beckstrom said. The priorities should include collaborating with other countries, diverting funds to make the Internet’s underlying structure more secure and signing contracts with service providers to protect all the federal government’s unclassified networks.

“Let’s hope that President Obama appoints someone willing to fight the pressures of the bureaucracy to get these and other key steps under way soon,” Beckstrom said.

He added that he has no interest in the position.

About the Authors

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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