The cybersecurity chief for Democratic candidate for president

Pete Buttigieg’s

campaign has resigned, amid warnings from intelligence officials and cybersecurity experts that presidential campaigns face challenges in thwarting cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns.

Mick Baccio

left his job as chief information security officer for Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign earlier this month due to differences with campaign leadership over how to manage information security, said a person familiar with the matter.

Chris Meagher, a spokesman for Mr. Buttigieg, confirmed the resignation and said that the “campaign has retained a new security firm and continues to be committed to digital security and protecting against cyberattacks.” Neither he nor the person familiar provided further details on the disagreement.

Mr. Buttigieg’s was the only campaign in the expansive Democratic field known to have hired a full-time staff member dedicated to overseeing cybersecurity. Mr. Buttigieg’s policy platform prominently mentions cybersecurity as a major threat facing the U.S., and the candidate raised the issue twice during Tuesday’s debate in Des Moines, Iowa.

Cybersecurity experts have warned that the presidential campaigns are struggling to improve security despite the email hacking by Russian operatives of

Hillary Clinton’s

campaign chairman,

John Podesta,

in 2016.

In a presentation at a cybersecurity conference in November, Mr. Baccio spoke candidly about the challenges of focusing a presidential campaign on cybersecurity. “Every dollar we spend on cybersecurity is a dollar we don’t spend on ads in New Hampshire or Iowa,” he said at the Washington-area event.

Mr. Baccio was hired last summer to protect Mr. Buttigieg and his campaign from hacks and disinformation campaigns. He previously worked for the White House Threat Intelligence team, a government office that monitors cyberattacks against the executive branch, during the Obama and Trump administrations. He also was involved in creating the first Computer Security Incident Response Center, which responds to cyberattacks, at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr. Buttigieg, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination, has raised about $76 million since the former South Bend, Ind., mayor entered the crowded race in early 2019.

With the 2020 election season’s first caucuses and primaries coming up next month, senior U.S. intelligence officials are renewing warnings that Russia and other hostile foreign powers remain intent on interfering in elections. Many experts say the candidates and their campaigns remain an important—and vulnerable—target.

“The threats as we go into 2020 are frankly more sophisticated, ”

Shelby Pierson,

the principal adviser on election threats in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said Tuesday at a conference for election administrators. “They have sharpened their own capabilities.”

Campaigns also face new technologically advanced threats, especially on the disinformation front. Among them is so-called deepfake technology—the use of artificial intelligence to create exceptionally realistic-looking fake videos of a person. Mr. Baccio has talked about his efforts to record Mr. Buttigieg constantly as a pre-emptive, defensive maneuver to counter attempts to spread misleading or altered videos that featured him.

“We keep the mayor in front of a camera basically all his waking hours,” Mr. Baccio said during the November cybersecurity conference.

Three big questions are hanging over the Democrats’ primary race as the candidates head into 2020. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains. (Originally Published December 31, 2019)

Write to Dustin Volz at dustin.volz@wsj.com

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