OH THE HUMANITY!
DHS Appoints Microsoft Exec to Secure Government Computers
You might not think it’s newsworthy when the Department of Homeland Security fills a job vacancy. But it’s news when a department that has security in its name actually appoints someone with security in his background.
Unfortunately, in this case, the security background comes courtesy of Microsoft, which might cause some to ponder the phrase “unclear on the concept.”
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced today that she was appointing Philip Reitinger to the position of deputy undersecretary of the department’s National Protections Program Directorate. The job requires Reitinger to oversee the protection of the government’s computer networks and work with the private sector to help secure critical infrastructures.
Reitinger comes to DHS from his job as chief trustworthy infrastructure strategist for Microsoft, a job that required him in part to help develop and implement strategies for enhancing the security of critical infrastructures.
But since many people in the security industry feel that Microsoft has played a large role in the lack of security (.pdf) with government and infrastructure systems, his appointment might be considered what some would call ironic (.pdf).
A DHS spokeswoman indicated that the appointment is a signal of how seriously Napolitano takes the issue of computer security.
Dan Geer, vice president and chief scientist at computer security firm Verdasys and one of Microsoft’s chief critics in the past, said, “The theory is that the best security program managers are sadder but wiser — that nothing focuses the mind like having been really close to the really ugly. As number two in security at Microsoft, Phil has been far closer to far uglier than anyone else on the planet, so we’ll soon see if the theory is correct.”
Reitinger, who served during the Bush Administration on the Industry Executive Subcommittee of the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, is an improvement over Scott Charbo, who held the DHS job last year after being promoted from his position as chief information officer of the DHS — a promotion that was criticized on Capitol Hill. Charbo had come to DHS from the Department of Agriculture, where, as CIO, his focus was on integrating networks, not securing them.
Reitinger at least has a background and an understanding of computer security issues. He also has a strong background in computer crime issues. Prior to joining Microsoft in 2003, he was executive director of the Department of Defense’s Cyber Crime Center, which includes a computer forensic lab and computer investigations training program. And before that, he was a federal criminal prosecutor for the Department of Justice where he served as deputy chief of its Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.
One of Reitinger’s first tasks in his new job will be deciding what to do with the job that Rod Beckstrom will vacate this Friday. Beckstrom resigned last week from his position as director of DHS’s National Cyber Security Center, where he was, essentially, the government’s cybersecurity czar. Beckstrom expressed frustration in his resignation letter that DHS wasn’t taking cybersecurity seriously, and he wasn’t being given the resources to do his job. He also complained that the National Security Agency was moving to take over DHS’s cybersecurity role.
DHS wouldn’t respond to those criticisms directly, but told Threat Level that Beckstrom wasn’t a team player.
“He was not really doing what he needs to do and working with people,” the spokeswoman said. “The secretary wanted to bring someone in who was more a team player and was good at their job and knew what was going on. She has brought in someone who will really do something with this issue.”
Obviously the federal government has a sense of irony in hiring someone from Microflaccid to lead a “cyber security” effort.