Howard A. Schmidt, W7HAS, of Muskego, Wisconsin — a global leader in cybersecurity and the first person to hold the post of White House Cybersecurity Coordinator — died on March 2. An ARRL member, he was 67. Schmidt served both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as their administrations’ top cybersecurity advisor. He also held top security posts at Microsoft and eBay. In 2009, after President Obama named him as White House Cybersecurity Coordinator, Schmidt told ARRL that he credited Amateur Radio with getting involved in technology. A friend who was a ham turned him on to shortwave radio, which got him into building radios and other equipment, including many Heathkits.
“I love technology, and it was Amateur Radio that caused me to build my first computer — a Sinclair ZX80 — to use for EME calculations,” he said in a 2009 interview. “I studied all about the OSCAR systems and would build equipment to monitor when they would pass within range of Arizona,” where he spent his younger years. He said that set him on the path to computer crime investigations and computer forensics, which, in turn, led to his career in cybersecurity. First licensed as WB7NUV in the late 1970s, Schmidt was active on VHF and UHF, including packet, and said TAPR was “a real inspiration.”
By the time he joined the Obama administration, which he left in 2012, he had only recently gotten back into Amateur Radio owing to what he called “an administrative error.” Due to a clerical mistake, the FCC had erroneously mailed him an Amateur Extra ticket, prompting him to buy a full complement of gear. By the time the error was resolved, he said, “I was hooked on Amateur Radio all over again.”
Schmidt distinguished himself in both the public and private sectors, including more than 26 years of military service with the US Air Force — he served three duty tours in Vietnam — and later as an Army Reserve special agent with the Criminal Investigation Divisions’ Computer Crime Unit. In the private sector, Schmidt was president and CEO of the Information Security Forum and an executive director of SAFECode. With former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, Schmidt was also a partner in Ridge-Schmidt Cyber, an executive services firm. Along the way, he was a police officer and a member of the FBI’s computer exploitation team. As director of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations Computer Forensics Lab and Computer Crime and Information Warfare Division, he established the US government’s first dedicated computer forensics lab.
In 2011, at Schmidt’s invitation, an ARRL delegation briefed several National Security Staff members on the capability of Amateur Radio to assist in emergencies. “The White House is looking for ways that the great work of Amateur Radio operators can continue to support emergencies in the future, with particular attention to increased use and dependency on internet-based technologies,” Schmidt told the delegation.
Schmidt was the author of Patrolling Cyberspace: Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Data Security and was a contributor to The Black Book on Corporate Security.
Current SAFECode Director Steve Lipner, a friend and former colleague, told Dark Reading that Schmidt was “a real leader in the industry” and “very committed to public service,” as well as a “practical, down-to-Earth guy.”