The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


Cast of Characters

Microsoft Executive Tapped For Top DHS Cyber Post

By Brian Krebs
The Department of Homeland Security today appointed a senior Microsoft Corp. executive to head a section charged with protecting the federal government's computer networks from cyber attacks.

Phil Reitinger, currently "chief trustworthy infrastructure strategist" at Microsoft, will become deputy undersecretary of DHS's National Protections Program division.

In addition to overseeing the department's mandate to protect government networks, Reitinger also will be responsible for coordinating Uncle Sam's outreach to private companies that own and operate the nation's most vital information assets. These digital assets power everything from water and electricity distribution systems to telecommunications and transportation networks.

As it happens, Reitinger comes to the position with cyber experience in both the public and private sectors. Prior to joining Microsoft in 2003, he was executive director of the Defense Department's Computer Forensics Lab. Before that, he was deputy chief of the Justice Department's Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property section, where he worked under Scott Charney, who is currently corporate vice president for trustworthy computing at Microsoft.

Cyber experts roundly praised Reitinger as a strong, smart pick at a time when DHS is sorely in need of leadership on cyber security matters.

"Phil is exponentially greater than anyone who's filled that post in recent years," said Tom Kellermann, vice president of security awareness at Boston based Core Security Technologies. "He is a forward thinking guy who understands the legal, technical and policy side of the cyber equation."

Reitinger's appointment comes just days after the resignation of Rod Beckstrom, director of DHS's National Cyber Security Center, an organization created last year to coordinate cyber security programs run by DHS, the Department of Defense, the FBI, and the National Security Agency. In his resignation letter, delivered to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano last Friday, Beckstrom said he was leaving due to a lack of resources and because there were efforts underway to fold his group -- as well as the division Reitinger is joining -- into a facility at the NSA.

But DHS spokesman Sean Smith said he expects Reitinger and DHS to play a leading role in cybersecurity in this new administration, calling Reitinger a "down payment on how seriously Secretary Napolitano takes this responsibility."

"We certainly don't want to have any overlapping responsibilities here, and so he really is going to be the point person on cyber. There's no doubt about that," Smith said.

Still, critics say DHS cyber efforts have been characterized by inefficiency and leadership failures. Amit Yoran, a former cybersecurity czar at DHS before he left the department in 2004 after little more than a year on the job, said Reitinger has some tough work ahead of him.

Yoran cited as an example the current status of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT). Widely considered one of the most effective cyber components of DHS, Yoran said US-CERT has been ripped apart by years of political infighting and political stovepipes.

"He's going to have to make sure the department's cyber efforts don't fall victim to failed administrative efforts, [such as] the inability to hire and retain talented people and contractors," Yoran said. "If you can't accomplish these things, you will fail. But I think Reitinger is very capable, and he's certainly going into DHS with his eyes wide open and a pretty good understanding of the bureaucratic and cultural problems there."

Posted at 6:53 PM ET on Mar 11, 2009  | Category:  Cast of Characters
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Posted by: scrivener50 | March 12, 2009 9:09 AM

Putting the security irony aside, I'm very concerned that Phil Reitinger will just be a Microsoft man. He will be in a position to require the use of only Microsoft software, software that only runs on Windows, and that developers working from within the government can only use Microsoft development tools.

In other words, letting a man with private corporate interests control government data and security with proprietary file formats and protocols is to surrender sovereignty.

Obama may be interested in transparency. But the words "transparency" and "Microsoft" do NOT go together. "Opaque" comes more readily to mind.

Bruce Schneier would have been a much better pick. He has no corporate agenda and he's not afraid to be candid about his assessments.

Posted by: Scottman | March 12, 2009 8:12 AM

My thoughts exactly.

One hopes he came to MS once they realized they needed a pro and hasn't gone insane since arriving.

Posted by: Georgetwoner | March 11, 2009 8:46 PM

I'm sure this guy is perfectly qualified, but I'm just a little bit amused at the irony of this job going to someone from Microsoft. Too funny.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | March 11, 2009 7:19 PM

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