MENLO PARK, Calif.—The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, and the University of California, Berkeley today announced the establishment of three major new academic initiatives focused on laying the foundations for smart, sustainable public policy to deal with the growing cyber threats faced by governments, businesses, and individuals.

The new programs, established with $45 million in grants from the Hewlett Foundation—$15 million to each school—are supported through the Foundation’s Cyber Initiative. The Foundation has now committed $65 million over the next five years to strengthening the nascent field of cybersecurity, the largest such commitment to date by a private donor.   

With the world increasingly dependent on the Internet for everything from banking to medical record keeping, the risk of disruption—from the merely inconvenient to the truly catastrophic—is clear, as is the need to develop workable systems capable of containing these threats over time. But government and industry have largely focused their separate, siloed security efforts on the immediate need to thwart enemies, hackers, and thieves.

The Hewlett Foundation’s Cyber Initiative is designed to foster the development of policy frameworks to help guide these actors toward sustainable solutions, to develop trust and improve communication among the disparate actors, and to train scholars and practitioners with the necessary combination of technological and policy expertise.

The grants to MIT, Stanford, and UC Berkeley are intended to jump-start a new field of cyber policy analysis—generating a robust “marketplace of ideas” about how best to enhance the trustworthiness of computer systems and appropriately balance rights of privacy, the need for data security, innovation, and the broader public interest. At all three universities, the new programs embody campus-wide efforts to connect scholars across disciplines—including engineering, political science, economics, public policy, business, anthropology, information technology, and more—to work collaboratively on cybersecurity and policy problems.

“Choices we are making today about Internet governance and security have profound implications for the future,” said Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer. “To make those choices well, it is imperative that they be made with some sense of what lies ahead and, still more important, of where we want to go. We view these grants as providing seed capital to begin generating thoughtful options.”

Each school will take a slightly different tack in setting up the new centers. MIT’s Cybersecurity Policy Initiative will focus on establishing quantitative metrics and qualitative models to help inform policymakers. Stanford’s Cyber Initiative will draw on the school’s extensive experience with multidisciplinary, university-wide initiatives to focus on the core themes of trustworthiness and governance of networks. And UC Berkeley’s Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity will be organized around assessing the possible range of future paths “cybersecurity” might take.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Larry Kramer throughout this process,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “His dedication and the Hewlett Foundation’s remarkable generosity provide an opportunity for MIT to make a meaningful and lasting impact on cybersecurity policy. I am honored by the trust that the Foundation has placed in MIT and excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.”

“Our increasing reliance on technology, combined with the unpredictable vulnerabilities of cyberspace, pose future challenges for all of society,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “We share the Hewlett Foundation’s goal to seek a robust understanding of how new technologies affect us all at the most fundamental human levels. Stanford has a long history of fostering interdisciplinary collaborations to find thoughtful and enlightened answers to these paramount questions.”

We are enormously grateful to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for launching this initiative, which recognizes the importance to society of long-term cyber issues,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks. “Our faculty at Berkeley are perfectly suited to help lead the way in pursuing independent scholarship in this field, and we are delighted to partner on this with the Hewlett Foundation and our great peer universities.”

“Having these three universities on board, with their global reach and world-class faculties, is a huge step in addressing one of the defining challenges of our time,” said the Hewlett Foundation’s Larry Kramer.

About The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation helps people build measurably better lives. The Foundation concentrates its resources on activities in education, the environment, global development and population, performing arts, and philanthropy, as well as grants to support disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. A full list of the Hewlett Foundation’s grants can be found in its online grants database.

About MIT’s Cybersecurity Policy Initiative

MIT’s Cybersecurity Policy Initiative will bring together scholars from three key disciplinary pillars—engineering, social science, and management—to lead in the development of a more sophisticated understanding of the security behavior of large-scale digital systems. A deeper understanding of why such systems fail will provide a crucial foundation for sound public policy. As an analogy, imagine trying to shape environmental policy without any way of measuring carbon levels in the atmosphere and no science to assess the cost or effectiveness of carbon mitigation tools. MIT researchers will seek to capture system dynamics and translate that knowledge into insights and recommendations for policy makers.

About the Stanford Cyber Initiative

The Stanford Cyber Initiative will apply broad campus expertise to the diverse challenges and opportunities that cybersecurity, cyberspace and networked information pose to humanity. The initiative will focus on the core themes of trustworthiness, governance, and the emergence of unexpected impacts of technological change over time.

About the UC Berkeley School of Information

The School of Information, which will house the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity initially, is at the forefront of interdisciplinary research and graduate education in the areas of information management, information network and service design, information and data science, and the legal, ethical, and policy implications of an increasingly information- and data-centric world.

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Jon Jeter
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