Symantec exec selected as chief of national cybersecurity

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The White House on Monday selected Amit Yoran, a software executive from Symantec Corp., as the nation's new cybersecurity chief for the Department of Homeland Security.

Yoran, who is hardly a household name but well known within the cybersecurity community, will be the government's evangelist for persuading Americans to improve their computer defenses against hackers, disgruntled employees, commercial rivals and foreign governments.

"He's been one of the leaders in this area in the private sector," said Howard Schmidt, former deputy special assistant to President Bush for cybersecurity issues. "He'll do quite well."

Yoran, a Symantec vice president, also will be responsible for carrying out dozens of recommendations in the administration's "National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace," a set of proposals to better protect computer networks.

"There are a number of challenges, but I wouldn't point to any one in particular and say it's the most difficult to overcome," Yoran said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There's definitely a lot of work ahead of us."

The Department of Homeland Security announced Yoran's selection Monday to industry executives and other government officials. Yoran, who was not at the announcement, said he expects to report for work within a few weeks.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., praised Yoran's appointment but said it took too long; the administration has been searching since May for a cybersecurity chief.

"The Administration has demonstrated, though its neglect of cyber security, that computer security is not a priority," Lieberman said in a statement. "This has been a mistake, but perhaps Mr. Yoran, with his impressive experience and background, will be able to begin to address these very important issues."

Yoran cofounded Riptech Inc. of Alexandria, Va., in March 1998, which monitored government and corporate computers around the world with an elaborate sensor network to protect against attacks. He sold the firm in July 2002 to Symantec for $145 million and stayed on as vice president for managed security services.

Roger Cressey, president of Good Harbor Consulting LLC and former chief of staff for President Bush's cybersecurity board, said Yoran is a good choice. "The challenge is going to be, will he be given enough latitude to take the steps necessary?"

Yoran said he hasn't yet talked with government ethics lawyers, but he said Symantec, a leading cybersecurity and antivirus vendor, wouldn't be given special treatment by the department.

"I don't think it would be responsible to cut them out, but certainly we would not show them favoritism just because I spent a year working here," Yoran said, adding that he will have no equity position or investment in Symantec once he joins the administration.

The new cybersecurity chief's position drew early criticism for its placement deep inside the agency's organizational chart. The cyberchief will be at least three steps beneath Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Yoran effectively replaces a position once held by Richard Clarke, a special adviser to President Bush.

"I'm not really overly concerned about my personal visibility," Yoran said. "I want to make sure we take the right initiatives."

Yoran earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from West Point and a master's in computer security from George Washington University. He was director of the vulnerability assessment program for the Defense Department's computer emergency response team before starting Riptech.

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