Home / Cybersecurity / Howard Schmidt, Cybersecurity Adviser to Two Presidents, Dies at 67 – New York Times

Howard Schmidt, Cybersecurity Adviser to Two Presidents, Dies at 67 – New York Times



Howard A. Schmidt speaking at the Sixth International Information Security Conference in Seoul, South Korea, in 2012.

Yonhap/European Pressphoto Agency

Howard A. Schmidt, a computer crime expert who advised two presidents and drafted cybersecurity safeguards that were approved by Congress in 2015, died on Thursday at his home in Muskego, Wis. He was 67.

The cause was brain cancer, his wife, Raemarie, said.

The legislation, which evolved from precautions he proposed several years earlier, enabled government and industry to share information about potential risks from attackers’ codes and techniques, shielded companies from liability lawsuits for trading data and provided privacy protections for consumers.

By the time the congressional legislation was finally approved, though, critics complained that it had been diluted in response to corporate concerns and was already technologically anachronistic.

Recruited by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mr. Schmidt returned to the White House under President Barack Obama.

He also oversaw the creation of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, an online authentication program less vulnerable than ordinary passwords to hackers engaged in identity theft or in stealing secrets from private industry or government.

Mr. Schmidt won the trust of much of the business community, which was fending off a barrage of cyberattacks but which also feared government intrusion and a damper on innovation. At the same time, he suggested that the threat of full-scale cyberwarfare between governments was exaggerated and that any such conflict would be unwinnable.

With the United States portraying itself as a victim of cyberwarfare and much of the world viewing Washington as a perpetrator — citing attacks on Iran’s nuclear program as an example — the White House proclaimed its first formal international cyberspace strategy during Mr. Schmidt’s tenure.

That strategy mirrored the planned response to other security threats, in which the United States reserved the right to use all necessary diplomatic and military means to defend itself in the event of a hostile cyberincident. Meanwhile, Mr. Schmidt said, nations were already acting defensively.

“Governments are starting to say, ‘In order to best protect my country, I need to find vulnerabilities in other countries,’” he told The New York Times in 2013. “The problem is that we all fundamentally become less secure.”


Mr. Schmidt with President Obama in the Cross Hall of the White House in 2009.

Lawrence Jackson/The White House

He said hackers exploited the fear that if one buyer failed to pay for secret information about a computer coding flaw, another would.

“If someone comes to you with a bug that could affect millions of devices and says, ‘You would be the only one to have this if you pay my fee,’ there will always be someone inclined to pay it,” he said. “Unfortunately, dancing with the devil in cyberspace has been pretty common.”

For much of his 40-year career, Mr. Schmidt was in the forefront of information technology and computer security for the military, government agencies and private industry. Most recently he was a partner with Tom Ridge, the former Homeland Security secretary, in Ridge Schmidt Cyber, a security consultancy.

In the mid-1990s, while working for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Mr. Schmidt was credited with helping to establish the federal government’s first full-time computer forensic laboratory. He also served as chief security officer at Microsoft and chief information security officer at eBay.

Mr. Schmidt was the president’s special adviser for cyberspace security in the Bush administration from late 2001 to 2003; he was also chairman of the president’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board.

The Obama administration recruited him in late 2009 to be its computer security adviser. He reported to the National Security Council.

Mr. Schmidt was the first president of the Information Security Forum, an industry and government coalition, and was chief security strategist for a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security and a cybersecurity program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Howard Anthony Schmidt was born on Oct. 5, 1949, in Philadelphia to Anthony and Edith Schmidt. He served three tours in the Air Force in Vietnam from 1968 to 1974; was a police officer in Chandler, Ariz.; and worked for the F.B.I. at the National Drug Intelligence Center.

He graduated from the University of Phoenix in 1994 with a bachelor of science degree in business administration and earned a master’s degree from that university.

In addition to his wife, the former Raemarie Lange, a forensic scientist, Mr. Schmidt is survived by his mother, Edith Curtis; his stepmother, Gloria Schmidt; his sons, Kyle, David, Andrew and Anthony; and eight grandchildren.

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