Stanford Cyber Initiative will tackle Internet technology concerns from many angles

Thanks to a Hewlett Foundation grant of $15 million, the Stanford Cyber Initiative will address, through an interdisciplinary focus, the crucial and complex opportunities and challenges raised by cyber-technologies.

Maksim Kabakou /Shutterstock Cybersecurity illustration

The Stanford Cyber Initiative being launched today will build upon the university's already extensive inquiry and research into Internet security to address leading questions in the field.

Stanford University today launched the Stanford Cyber Initiative to apply broad campus expertise to the diverse challenges and opportunities that cybersecurity, cyberspace and networked information pose to humanity.                                                      

Information security has an expanding and deepening role in virtually every facet of our personal, social, governmental and economic lives. Yet the Internet is decentralized and vulnerable to malicious use. How does society protect its core values in the face of the promise and perils of digital information? And, how does society adapt to changing technologies?

These are the type of questions that Stanford researchers will study, thanks to the jumpstart given by a $15 million grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Stanford's initiative will be highly interdisciplinary in building a new policy framework for cyber issues. It will draw on the campus' experience with multidisciplinary, university-wide initiatives to focus on the core themes of trustworthiness, governance and the emergence of unexpected impacts of technological change over time.

"Our increasing reliance on technology, combined with the unpredictable vulnerabilities of networked information, 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."

Building on Stanford strengths

The Stanford Cyber Initiative will build upon the university's already extensive inquiry and research into Internet security. In doing so, Stanford has drawn on connections with industry and government by establishing, for example, a "cyber boot camp" for U.S. congressional staff (a Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies/Hoover Institution collaboration,) a conference on the "ethics of data in civil society" and an ongoing "security conundrum" speaker series on cyber issues.

The initiative will work with Stanford’s existing research hubs addressing cyber issues, including those in the Computer Security Lab in the Department of Computer Science, the Freeman Spogli Institute's Center for International Security and Cooperation, the Hoover Institution and the Law School's Center for Internet and Society.

The initiative will launch immediately and develop faculty seminars and conferences, organize working groups of faculty and students to tackle policy-relevant problems in information security, and provide support for internal research awards, teaching and curriculum development. Collaborations with industry and government are a vital part of the initiative.

The Stanford Cyber Initiative includes roles for faculty and students across a wide swath of research disciplines – computer science, law, the social sciences, engineering, political science and education, among others. And it will also enlist Stanford alumni who are leaders in the policy and technology fields.

For those seeking to participate, information is available on the Stanford Cyber Initiative website.

A central hub

"We are deeply grateful to the Hewlett Foundation for recognizing Stanford's ongoing work and future potential in this area. With the help of their generous grant, this initiative will grow into a central presence on campus that more broadly comprehends the possibilities and perils of networked information," said Stanford law Professor George Triantis, who will chair the steering committee for the initiative.

The committee currently includes professors Jeremy Bailenson (communications,) Stephen Barley (management science and engineering,) Ian Morris (classics and history,) John Mitchell (computer science and electrical engineering,) Dan Boneh (computer science and electrical engineering,) Amy Zegart (Hoover Institution and CISAC) and Barbara van Schewick (law).

Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, the director of Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Stanford law professor, is one of the founders of the initiative. 

"The Stanford initiative will create vast opportunities to advance knowledge about the future of cyberspace and cybersecurity," Cuéllar said. "Faculty and students will expand existing research efforts and conversations with the goal of building a safer, better world that balances humanity's concerns with the promise of new technologies."

Cuéllar noted that crucial areas of examination include how to resolve trust and security problems endemic to networked information technologies, how to govern the Internet in a world where people often disagree about what they value, and how to anticipate unexpected developments in information technologies that could affect national security, intellectual property, civil liberties and society.

Ann Arvin, Stanford's vice provost and dean of research, said, "Our scholars and students will examine pressing questions about how can we ensure security and protect privacy while continuing to foster an open, innovative and entrepreneurial culture and society. We want to better understand the short- and long-term consequences and implications of the pervasiveness of digital technology in our lives."

In exploring this conundrum, the initiative will encourage collaborative focus across disciplines on the challenges of trustworthiness – for example, can individuals trust that information technologies will deliver on their promise and also avoid the hazards of deliberately hostile or antisocial actions? 

A central goal is to create a policy framework that can generate lasting solutions not only to existing problems but also to problems that may emerge in the future. 

'Profound implications'

The new program is supported through the Hewlett Foundation's Cyber Initiative, which has now committed $65 million over the next five years to the study of cybersecurity, the largest amount given to date by a private donor to this topic.

"Choices we are making today about Internet governance and security have profound implications for the future," said Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer, a former dean of the Stanford Law School. "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."

The other universities receiving Hewlett grants of $15 million each – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley – will take a complementary approach in setting up the new centers based on their particular strengths and expertise.

For more information go to Stanford Cyber Initiative.

Lisa Lapin, Stanford University Communications: (650) 725-8396,

Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224,