Menlo Park, Calif. — The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced today that is has created a new initiative designed to help address the problem of cyber threats against governments, businesses, and individuals. The foundation will invest $20 million over the next five years in what it is calling its Cyber Initiative to build a field of expertise to help understand and address the wide array of issues posed by the Internet.


The growing importance of the Internet over the past two decades has included a corresponding rise in its use for criminal, intelligence, and military purposes. Attacks originating over the Internet are being launched against both private and public interests by a diverse range of actors motivated by an equally diverse set of reasons.

Technological innovation continues to be fast-moving, and the parts of government responsible for handling cyber issues cannot keep pace with the changes. Even the more nimble private sector finds itself straining to keep up. At the same time, Congress and the larger public need help to understand the ramifications of the dramatic increase in cybersecurity threats. A great many challenging questions remain unanswered. There is, for example, no consensus on who should govern the Internet or who should control data. Recognizing that philanthropy has something to offer to government and business in this area, the initiative aims to help build processes and structures that will enable government and the private sector to better understand and work together to tackle the toughest challenges they face.

The Current Funding Environment

As noted above, while government and industry both spend a great deal on cybersecurity issues, their work does not always necessarily address the most important questions and problems. It is here that philanthropy can play a valuable role. The initiative will help bring together government, industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations to find solutions to these challenges, with the understanding that solving the most difficult problems will require collaboration and trust at a higher level than is likely to occur without concerted attention to building it.

In particular, while government and industry focus on immediately pressing problems, few resources are devoted to thinking about the issues from a long-term or broad public policy perspective. Perhaps understandably, neither government nor industry has invested in developing independent thought centers or leadership or has funded efforts beyond their immediate interests.

The Role for the Hewlett Foundation

The Hewlett Foundation has identified three overarching problems in the current cybersecurity field: the field is fragmented, making it difficult for relevant actors to work together; the field would benefit from more thought leadership that can keep pace with fast-changing policy decisions and other developments; and the technical nature of the issues makes the threats difficult for the general public and policymakers to understand.

While the Hewlett Foundation can play an important role in building a cybersecurity field, it knows it cannot be successful acting alone. The Foundation’s objective is to act as a catalyst by showing what can be done to foster increased collaboration among key players in cybersecurity and to develop the forums and information needed to address cyber issues that cut across sectors. In so doing, we hope to inspire other funders to enter the sector and to persuade government and industry to widen their focus. The Foundation will do so by pursuing the following four goals:

  1. Begin to develop a network of experts working to keep the Internet secure, open, and well governed.
  2. Help individuals and institutions develop comprehensive analyses of cybersecurity problems and solutions.
  3. Attract new funders and additional funds.
  4. Fill critical research gaps.

“The Hewlett Foundation has an opportunity to engage these disparate players, learn from them, and experiment with new approaches to field building,” said Larry Kramer, President of the Hewlett Foundation. “Cybersecurity represents an exciting opportunity to advance a field that needs attention but is largely new to private philanthropy. If successful, our efforts will yield important security and privacy benefits to individuals, communities, businesses, and the international community.”

“The cybersecurity problem is dynamic and unsettled,” said Robert Gallucci of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “The Internet is increasingly exploited by a range of actors in ways that erode individual privacy and undermine our collective security. As MacArthur has focused on advancing an open and secure Internet, we see the Hewlett Foundation’s new focus on cybersecurity as an important and promising initiative at a time when the divergent interests of government and industry create a complicated landscape for us all.”

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 all the Hewlett Foundation’s grants can be found here.

Eric Brown
Communications Director