New cybersecurity center flashes forward to 2020

Illustration showing the dense interconnectedness of the world.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation selected Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT to receive $15 million each to research security in the digital age.

We live in a time when the line between the public and the personal has become blurred, and power struggles that take place in the virtual realm of 1s and 0s can have major consequences in real life.

Berkeley is now poised to lead the nascent field of cyber policy analysis — how best to ensure the security of sensitive data, while encouraging innovation and protecting the broader public interest. As part of its Cyber Initiative, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation selected Berkeley, Stanford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to receive $15 million each to advance our understanding of security in the digital age. While each school will take a slightly different tack, Berkeley established the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC) in the School of Information (I School). Steven Weber, an I School and political science professor, serves as faculty director.

“Security is no longer about avoiding nuclear annihilation, or even about someone hacking into the Pentagon. It means the most important values that people hold when machines and humans interact.”

When Weber joined Berkeley in 1989, his research focused on national security during the Cold War. Since then, he says, our concept of security has changed significantly, and the quality of our collective human future depends on how well we navigate the vulnerabilities that have arisen as a result of our ever-increasing connectivity.

“Security is no longer about avoiding nuclear annihilation, or even about someone hacking into the Pentagon,” he says. “Today, security means the most important values that people hold when machines and humans interact.”

In the 90s, Weber became interested in what he calls “the iconic problem” in international relations — how do you encourage large-scale, non-hierarchical cooperation? Around that time, the open source software movement and the collaborative environment that made it possible grabbed his attention, and he wrote The Success of Open Source. Today, Weber’s work on humanity’s interface with technology joins a growing body of research that supports his assertion that cybersecurity is a “master problem that we have to manage.” Making use of the breadth of Berkeley’s intellectual capital, the CLTC is cultivating interdisciplinary inquiry around this critical issue.

“You might guess that this work touches on computer science, economics, healthcare, and law,” says Weber. “But how about sociology, linguistics, and anthropology?”

Approaching the complex interactions between humans and machines from multiple angles, the CLTC seeks to create dialogue among industry, academia, and government and anticipate challenges to societal and individual wellbeing that may arise as we deepen our engagement with digital networks and tools. In its inaugural year, it is developing scenarios that will serve as models and help the center’s leadership determine the best avenues for research.

The CLTC recently welcomed a new executive director and senior research fellow. They join faculty researchers who are determined to get ahead of emerging problems in the rapidly evolving technological landscape, not simply react to crises as they occur. When 2020 arrives, Berkeley faculty will have seen it coming — and their insight will help people co-exist productively, safely, and meaningfully with the machines of our collective creation.

Three key questions the CLTC is investigating

1) In an era of decentralized information, how will conceptions of privacy, intellectual property, and personal safety evolve?

2) What role will big data play in understanding health and wellbeing?

3) Will the “internet of things” improve our ability to manage resources in the face of climate change and other challenges?

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