The Biden administration has hired former Twitter cybersecurity chief Peiter Zatko for a part-time role with the Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency.
The news, first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday, caught my attention — not because it’s shocking necessarily, but because it may be a stroke of genius on the government’s part.
It’s a critical time for CISA to hire this particular person. And on its face, the decision seems to make a whole lot of sense.
Zatko will work with CISA as a senior technical adviser tasked with “push[ing] software manufacturers to bake security into their products while they’re being developed,” the Post reported. And CISA Director Jen Easterly confirmed the news on social media.
This was me reading the news:
Zatko is a longtime cybersecurity expert and former hacker. You may know him as the whistleblower who last year claimed Twitter executives had ignored a raft of security issues at the company.
Zatko was fired from Twitter in January 2022, months before Elon Musk took over the company. (Twitter has reportedly dealt with its share of security issues under Musk, too.)
Zatko’s claims, which Twitter said are “riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies,” included allegations that thousands of Twitter employees had access to users’ private data; that Twitter may have been understating the number of bots on its platform; and that Twitter may have had foreign agents on its payroll, leaving users’ data susceptible to malicious use by foreign governments.
Another interesting ripple in this story of Zatko’s hiring at CISA? It places him at odds with Musk and his allies, who’ve tried (and failed) to prove CISA is secretly an anti-conservative censorship agency. (More on that here.)
If you want someone who can talk about cybersecurity in a broad sense, Zatko is capable, but his experience at Twitter also gives him insight into the specific cybersecurity issues confronting large social media companies and the countries where they operate. And that expertise seems vital, given the unfortunate fact that these companies’ influence only seems to grow by the day.