Members of the information security program at the Georgia Institute of Technology expressed sadness at the passing of Howard A. Schmidt, former professor of practice (2004-09) with the Georgia Tech Information Security Center, a cybersecurity advisor to two U.S. presidents, and security executive for Microsoft and eBay.
“Schmidt’s extraordinary career as a cybersecurity pioneer helped Georgia Tech continually align its information security programs with the needs of industry, government, and law enforcement, which helped us become an academic leader in this field,” says Mustaque Ahamad, former director of GTISC, which grew to become the Institute for Information Security & Privacy at Georgia Tech in 2015.
Schmidt – lauded as a “security industry heavyweight” – was at the epicenter when the spheres of national policy, law enforcement, and cybersecurity began to converge in the mid-1990s. The decorated Vietnam War hero and pilot had been serving in the Arizona Air National Guard when, in 1994, the Federal Bureau of Investigation asked him to form and lead the Computer Exploitation Team for the nascent National Drug Intelligence Center. That unit later contributed to the formation of the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center, and ultimately to what is today the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He helped the Air Force Office of Special Investigations establish the first dedicated computer forensic lab in the federal government in 1996, which was the basis for the formation of the Defense Computer Forensic Laboratory that continues today. Shortly after 9/11, Schmidt was appointed by President George W. Bush as the vice chair of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and as Special Adviser for Cyberspace Security. President Barack Obama appointed him to the newly created role of national cybersecurity coordinator, where his responsibilities included implementation of a cybersecurity action plan across all federal agencies.
His influence in private industry developed through roles as chief information security officer (CISO) for eBay and Microsoft, as chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Cyber Leadership Council, and as a cybersecurity risk management consultant with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who was the nation’s first Secretary of Homeland Security.
“The info-sec world has lost one of its most-admired pioneers. Howard brought the nation’s spotlight to the critical issue of digital infrastructure protection in his early roles at the White House, and advanced our industry with his deep understanding and thoughtful guidance on policy, technology, and best practice issues,” said Tom Noonan, general partner at TechOperators LLC in Atlanta and a technology investor who serves on the White House Infrastructure Advisory Council. “Throughout his career in both the public and private sectors, Howard was easily one of the most admired and respected leaders; we will miss him dearly.”
In academic spheres, Schmidt contributed to research at Georgia Tech and other universities, brought luminaries to Atlanta for cybersecurity events hosted by Georgia Tech, and organized fireside chats with industry leaders.
“He was well-liked by students and visited Georgia Tech regularly to interact with students, faculty, and local business leaders," recalls Ahamad. “Today, Georgia Tech continues to be a top research, education, and innovation leader in cybersecurity. Howard's insights and guidance played a big role in it. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and colleagues across the country.”