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Cyber Czar Takes on ‘Exaggerated’ Cyber Threat

White House cybersecurity czar Howard Schmidt with President Barack Obama, Photo: whitehouse.gov, Lawrence Jackson

2010 was a watershed year for cybersecurity. Cyber attacks and, even, talk of cyber war were on the rise. New terms entered our lexicon, such as WikiLeaks, Stuxnet, and some terms took on a new life: Anonymous, anyone?

But, in an interview with Newsweek, Howard Schmidt, the White House cybersecurity czar, seemed to take it all in stride.

Responding to a question about the United States’ vulnerability to a large-scale cyber attack, Schmidt repeated his opinion that the likelihood of such an event had been “exaggerated.”

It’s all about perspective, he told the weekly magazine, citing the “tremendous amount of really wonderful, rich robust things that are taking place,” in cyberspace. “But like anything else, the things that make the news are the things that aren’t working well,” he added.

In the wake of Stuxnet, the mysterious worm that targeted the Iranian nuclear program, Schmidt said the government was partnering with the private sector, which actually owns most U.S. critical infrastructure.

“We’re working with them to [determine] where we can get these things fixed now, where we need to redirect or remediate, and what are the resources the government can bring to bear, such as law enforcement,” he said.

On the WikiLeaks front, he likened the cyber attacks against MasterCard and Amazon to rowdy street protests, which can disrupt traffic, but have often little impact beyond that.

So, it’s likely Schmidt would not agree with breathless media hype characterizing those attacks as the opening shots in an information war.

But, don’t call Schmidt a cyber denier. The realization that the United States faces new threats is not a “false perception,” he said.

“I recognize—and many of my colleagues in the private sector and in government recognize—that there’s a real threat out there,” he added. “But the threat sort of follows the way we build our defenses against it, and I think those things continue to move in parallel.

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