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Cyber Initiative

With one out of every three people worldwide using the Internet; the number of online devices expected to eclipse thirty billion by 2020; and the computer’s outsized role in virtually every facet of our private, governmental, commercial, and even military affairs; cybersecurity is to the dawn of twenty-first century, what automobile safety was to the twentieth.

Developing shared, safe “rules of the road” for an Internet highway that collects and stores unimaginably large troves of data is a critical step toward ensuring the smooth flow of traffic, while also keeping our intellectual and material property out of harm’s way, especially with experts predicting a three-fold increase in Web traffic by 2019.

So far, the response to the quickening pace of technological change, and the elastic threats to the world’s principle communications network, has been frighteningly fragmented. Government is, by and large, focused on building offensive and defensive cyber weapons, while corporations erect ever-higher walls to guard against theft and government surveillance. Neither is investing enough in research that looks beyond their immediate problems and interests. This splintered approach to cybersecurity results in uncoordinated—even unimaginative—responses that are narrowly focused and inadequate for the task at hand.
 
This is where we believe the Hewlett Foundation has a role to play. The goal of this initiative is to help develop a cybersecurity field capable of developing thoughtful, long-term solutions to the whole range of complex technical and public policy problems posed by the Internet. We plan to accomplish this by funding activities to promote information-sharing systems that support and encourage independent research from a broad policy perspective, and that combine efforts of government, the private sector, and nongovernmental actors. In doing so, we can increase trust and coordination among the key players and improve the quality of debate.

This deepening dialogue will, in turn, help cultivate a cybersecurity field that is capable of tackling the substantive cyber problems that currently sit outside the orbit of any of these actors on their own.

Although the Internet and problems related to its use are inherently global, our funding will, at the outset, focus on institutions based in the United States. There are more than enough of these to absorb our funding, and this geographic emphasis should also help spur the collaboration we view as essential.

While we believe that the Hewlett Foundation can play an important role in building a cybersecurity field, we understand that the scope of the problem will require far more than our commitment of $4 million per year. Thus, an equally important objective is to serve as a catalyst, attracting new funders to help develop and enlarge a network of cybersecurity experts, foster new institutions to work on comprehensive analyses and solutions, and create data to fill critical gaps in the field.

Cybersecurity represents an exciting opportunity to advance a field that needs attention, but is largely new to private philanthropy. If successful, we hope that our efforts will yield important security benefits to individuals, communities, and businesses, both in the U.S. and internationally. It’s an uncertain bet, but one surely worth exploring.

For more information that provides a thorough analysis and explanation of the thinking and goals of the Cyber Initiative, see the following memo.