Sun appoints Diffie chief security officer

Sun Microsystems Inc. added two high-level security positions to its management Wednesday when it named long-time Sun employee and security pioneer Whitfield Diffie chief security officer and Joanne Masters director of the new Sun Global Security Program Office.

Diffie’s appointment as chief security officer (CSO) makes him the first person to hold that title at Sun.

Diffie has been with Sun, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., since 1991 and is the creator of public key encryption, an encryption method widely used worldwide. He will report to the head of Sun Labs, as in his previous position, as well as to Ed Zander, president and chief operating officer at Sun, and Scott McNealy, chairman and chief executive officer. Both Diffie and Masters will assume their new positions immediately, Sun said in a statement.

“Sun has a very good tradition of security,” though it has been “perhaps a little underambitious,” Diffie said.

In their new positions and offices, Diffie and Masters, will work toward three goals, Sun said:

— Promoting Sun’s security offerings to customers and partners, as well as educating customers and partners on key security issues;

— Expanding Sun’s relationship with security organizations worldwide;

— Determining and acting on future customer security requirements across all of Sun’s research, product development, marketing and sales units.

Beyond these goals, Diffie will work to coordinate security efforts under way within Sun, but also outside Sun between industry, government and academia.

Among his first goals for Sun is to “raise the level of ambition of security offerings in Sun products” through that kind of interdepartmental coordination, he said. Such coordination should lead to more useful and realistic security objectives and easier-to-use security technologies, he said.

Diffie expects that as CSO he will spend most of his time thinking about big, broad issues, rather than concerning himself with particular protocols or pieces of code.

Among the big issues he tackles first, he said, are likely to be Sun’s Liberty Alliance project — the company’s answer to rival Microsoft Corp.’s Passport single sign-on technology — and the integration of security features in hardware.

Being appointed Sun’s first CSO indicates that “security … has become something that nobody can fail to recognize as a crucial issue,” Diffie said.

Though he declined to say whether his appointment as CSO is part of a larger trend toward broad creation of that corporate role, he did say that he expects companies will increasingly want to centralize security responsibilities under one person.

The Global Security Program Office, headed by Masters, will also work to raise Sun’s profile on security issues, Sun said.

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