An attack on the technological infrastructure of the United States is akin to an attack with conventional weapons, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Stanford audience on Friday.

“Right now we don’t have an effective deterrent to prevent cyber warfare the way we do conventional nuclear conflicts,” she said. “I believe that it is time for the United States to declare a new doctrine, stating that a cyberattack on our vital infrastructure will be treated as an act of war.”

Clinton spoke about cybersecurity and the perils of digital technology as part of a daylong conference that launched the Global Digital Policy Incubator, a new program at the university.

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In her address to members of the campus community, Hillary Clinton speaks about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and celebrates Stanford’s efforts to combat cyber warfare.

She delivered a keynote address, “Digital Technology, Diplomacy and Democratic Values,” and spoke with Eileen Donahoe, executive director of the Global Digital Policy Incubator, at CEMEX Auditorium before a packed crowd of students, faculty, staff and guests.

Clinton praised the idea for the incubator, created at Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). The new program aims to foster collaborations to inspire policy and governance innovations that reinforce democratic values, universal human rights and the rule of law in the global digital realm.

“The timely launch of [this initiative] could not be at a better time or a better place,” Clinton said. “Our country and other democracies are facing serious and urgent challenges from the nexus of technology, propaganda, terrorism, espionage and cyber warfare.”

Provost Persis Drell introduced Clinton before she took the stage.

“Silicon Valley has played a central role in launching many of the digital technologies that have revolutionized our world,” Drell said. “The applications of those technologies of course raise a variety of important issues that societies around the world are now confronting: privacy, freedom of expression, the quality of discourse needed for the function of democracies, the impacts of digital technology on national security and many others.”

Clinton said it’s important to recognize the positive aspects the Internet and other parts of digital technology have on democracies, such as making it easier for people to access information on voting and elections. But she said it’s important to find ways to counteract its negative consequences as well.

“The question is how do we strike the right balance?” Clinton said. As we all know, the 2016 campaign revealed a darker side of the intersection between technology and democracy.”

Hillary Clinton shakes hands with students after a keynote address and conversation with Eileen Donohoe, left, at the launch of the new Global Digital Policy Incubator. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Clinton, who lost to President Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. election, spoke about the hacking attack her campaign experienced, an event she described as “a virtual Watergate break-in” carried out by the Russian government.

“There were many factors that influenced the outcome of the election,” Clinton said. But she said it’s important to not diminish the impact of “the information warfare waged against us from the highest levels of the Kremlin.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the presidential election. Clinton said the misinformation and hacking call for tough cybersecurity measures from the United States and illuminate a need for the possible establishment of an international organization to combat cyber warfare.

Tough measures against cyberattacks should include a fight against the spread of fake news and holding those responsible for its dissemination accountable, Clinton said.

In her conversation with Donahoe, Clinton acknowledged that politicians are also responsible for making misinformation normal.

“We’ve gotten used to people not being held accountable for any kind of truth,” Clinton said. “What do we do? We have to begin in pledging our allegiance to fact-based deliberation, fact-based policy.”

Despite highlighting the challenges that the times ahead present democratic societies, Clinton ended the event on a hopeful note of advice for members of the Stanford community.

“I would implore you to keep in mind the kind of ethical considerations that now have to be part of the debate of the consequences of technological advances,” Clinton said. “As students and as professors here at Stanford I think you have a tremendous opportunity and obligation to really help chart this debate.”