What does the U.S. cybersecurity czar do?

What are the Cybersecurity Czar's Responsibilities?

"Cyberspace is real. And so are the risks that come with it," President Obama said in a May 2009 speech establishing the cybersecurity coordinator position. At that time, he also outlined three principal duties for the role:

  • Orchestrate and integrate the government's cyber policies.
  • Work with the Office of Management and Budget to make sure federal agencies have the necessary funds to deal with cybersecurity issues.
  • Coordinate the response to a major computer incident or attack.

Fulfilling these duties requires the cybersecurity czar to collaborate with various government agencies. For example, he works with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), which operates both a cyber command to protect military computer networks and the Defense Computer Forensics Laboratory to deal with cases involving counterintelligence, terrorism and fraud. Within the DoD, he also works with the National Security Agency (NSA), which devises codes to protect sensitive information and monitors enemy communications.

He also works with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Its National Cyber Security Division coordinates the efforts of the Department of Defense, the FBI and the NSA. It includes the National Cyber Response Coordination Group, which consists of 13 federal agencies that respond if there is a cyber attack. It also includes the Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT), which analyzes and defends the country against cyber threats.

As cybersecurity coordinator, Schmidt has the responsibility to help implement policies across all these organizations. He advises the president, and he consults with Congress, other federal departments and agencies, and state and local governments. His position straddles policy-making and implementation [source: Chabrow].

However, he doesn't have day-to-day authority over any of the groups working on the safety of computer networks. He can make recommendations, but he has no direct power where budget is concerned. Some critics have said the position has enormous responsibility but no real authority [source: Nakashima]. For example, he can't give direct orders; he can only raise issues and bring them to the president's attention.

But the cybersecurity czar's area of concern isn't limited to the government sector. Because private computer networks are critical to concerns such as telecommunications and the power grid, he works with private companies to help them avoid security threats, too. He also consults with international partners, including the European Union, to deal with worldwide cybersecurity issues.

Since his appointment, Schmidt has named five priorities for his office:

  1. Developing a strategy to secure U.S. computer networks
  2. Ensuring an organized response to cyber incidents
  3. Strengthening partnerships with private companies
  4. Promoting research and development on cybersecurity technology
  5. Leading a national campaign for computer security awareness and education

[source: White House]

Threats to U.S. computers and networks present a serious danger to the nation and its economy, but the cybersecurity czar isn't gloomy about the prospects of reaching those goals. In a March 2010 interview with Govinfosecurity.com, he said: "I've been in this business long enough that I've gone from being the gloom-and-doom to understanding we've come a long way. … I can't help but be optimistic" [source: Chabrow].

To learn even more about cybersecurity and how well your computer is really protected, click on over to the next page.

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  • Anderson, Kevin. "US names cyber-terrorism czar." BBC. October 10, 2001.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1590398.stm
  • Chabrow, Eric. "Howard Schmidt Dismisses Cyberwar Fears." Govinfosecurity.com, March 6, 2010.http://www.govinfosecurity.com/articles.php?art_id=2267
  • Chabrow, Eric. "Howard Schmidt: In His Own Words." Govinfosecurity.com. February 3, 2010.http://www.govinfosecurity.com/articles.php?art_id=2156&opg=1
  • Department of Homeland Security. "National Cyber Security Division."http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/structure/editorial_0839.shtm
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  • The White House 5/29/09. "Remarks by the President On Securing Our Nation's Cyber Infrastructure." May 29, 2009.http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-on-Securing-Our-Nations-Cyber-Infrastructure/
  • The White House Blog. "Introducing the New Cybersecurity Coordinator." December 22, 2009http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2009/12/22/introducing-new-cybersecurity-coordinator
  • Zimmer, Ben. "Czar Wars." Slate, December 29, 2008.http://www.slate.com/id/2207055