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Top CISA Election Security Official Exits for Voting Disinformation Think Tank

Credit: CISA

A top official at the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber wing is leaving the agency this week to join an academic think tank examining election security and social media disinformation issues.

Matt Masterson, a senior advisor at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) since 2018 and an influential election security expert, will join the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO), a computer science research program that studies abuse in current information technologies and social media disinformation issues. His departure follows the high-profile firing of former CISA director Christopher Krebs a month ago, subsequent resignation of former CISA Deputy Director Matthew Travis and departure of Bryan Ware, CISA’s former assistant director. Masterson plans to leave CISA on Friday, December 18.

The staff changes come at an extremely sensitive time. The CISA is currently working with SolarWinds, FireEye, the FBI and other organizations to mitigate the SolarWinds Orion supply chain vulnerability.

President Trump purged the unit after Krebs defended the 2020 election as the “most secure in U.S. history.” The president called Krebs’ statement “highly inaccurate” and continues to loudly claim “massive improprieties and fraud” caused his election defeat despite no supporting evidence and dozens of failed cases in the courts.

Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former security chief, heads the 10-person Stanford team that also includes 32 graduate and undergraduate students. In a Twitter post, Stamos said he is “very proud” to have Masterson "join to help figure out the future of election security and disinformation.” In expressing gratitude for the support he’s received, Masterson called election officials “the best of us. Tireless public servants working every day for our democracy.”

Of his new role, Masterson told CyberScoop: “We’re going to unpack what we’ve learned over the last few years ,” and “what more needs to be done on a broader level.”

Prior to his stint at CISA, Masterson was an Election Assistance Commission (EAC) commissioner from December, 2014 to March, 2018. During that period, he also served as Interim Chief of Staff for the Ohio Secretary of State. Masterson was a key part of a CISA team assembled to shore up the nation’s election infrastructure following the intrusion of foreign operatives into the 2016 presidential election. In the immediate wake of the 2020 election, Krebs, the team's leader, announced that voting day came and went with “no evidence any foreign adversary was capable of preventing Americans from voting or changing vote tallies.”

Even though election security has come a long way since the 2016 there is still work to be done, Masterson told CyberScoop. Procuring federal security resources for small and medium-sized counties and smaller voting technology vendors is a much needed improvement, he said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Masterson’s move to SIO.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.