Leadership, Cyber veterans, Incident Response

Salesforce’s Maggie Amato: From targeted whistleblower to force for change

Maggie Amato is business information security officer at Salesforce.

The professional career of Maggie Amato, business information security officer of Salesforce, looked very different in 2017.

After helping to stand up a cybersecurity coordination center in the Department of Health and Human Services that was widely credited with (among other things) minimizing the impact of the WannaCry ransomware cyberattack on the U.S. health sector, she and then-HHS Deputy Chief Information Security Officer Leo Scanlan were reassigned. A month later, she resigned. The rumor mill circulated stories of mismanagement, contractor favoritism, and ineptitude.

Amato experienced the worst of it.

“Everything in the book was said. I had ethics issues. I was sleeping with people that I didn't even know,” she recalled, speaking for the first time publicly about the ordeal with SC Media. “I truly do believe that if I weren't a female running the program, things would've been very, very different.”

Click here for full coverage of the 2022 Women in IT Security.

SC Media detailed the full scope of Amato’s ordeal in a separate report that you can read here. But it’s difficult to write a profile about this security leader without highlighting what she experienced at the hand of government bureaucracy.

Amato and Scanlan were never provided an explanation for why they were reassigned — told of internal investigations tied to claims in an anonymous letter of ethical issues and mismanagement, but given no evidence. Both learned later that no formal investigation ever took place. What Amato does note is that the reassignment came shortly after they objected to a planned transformation of the program, and reported concern that too much work was being pushed to private sector, versus managed internally by government.

They both ultimately received whistleblower protection, which remains in place by Congress today.

“This was about sharing information, helping them understand their business risk," Amato said. "I was just trying to do what was right for the public, knowing that a private-sector company was charging millions of dollars to do the same thing I was able to do for free."

The incident took a physical toll — she lost her hair — and Amato conceded that she took a career hit because of her decision to speak up. For years, anonymous calls would be made to her new employers, making the false claim that she was under investigation for ethics issues. HHS actually provided her a letter, reaffirming the positive impact she had during her tenure, to show employers whenever they asked about her “government scandal.”

And speaking volumes of her current employer, Salesforce made no effort to temper Amato’s comments. The nomination simply described her as “a force to be reckoned with” that possesses a “constant drive to execute and deliver, especially in times of change and challenge.”

The situation “put a lot of things into perspective,” Amato said. “I am one person; what do I want to contribute into this world? I really want to be able to help minority voices be heard. I want to champion other women because I feel I have seen quite possibly everything that you can see.”

Jill Aitoro

Jill Aitoro leads editorial for SC Media, and content strategy for parent company CyberRisk Alliance. She 20 years of experience editing and reporting on technology, business and policy.

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