MIT Lands Major Cyber-Security Funding Injection

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

American academic centres land the largest ever private funding deal for cyber-security research

Three of the leading American academic centres have secured a major funding deal in order to develop a cyber-security initiative, that will allow organisations to build and develop effective policies to combat the ever-increasing threat of cyber-crime.

The Massachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT) has revealed that its Cybersecurity Policy Initiative (CPI) has received $15m (£9.6m) in funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. William Hewlett, who died in 2001, was a co-founder of Hewlett-Packard along with David Packard.

Deals

But MIT’s CPI is just one of three new academic initiatives to receive a total of $45m (£29m) from the Hewlett Foundation’s Cyber Initiative. Other funding tranches went to Stanford University, and the University of California at Berkeley.

The idea behind the funding deals is to try and “jump-start a new field of cyber policy research.” Essentially, the thinking is to generate a “marketplace of ideas” about how best to bolster the trustworthiness of computer systems, whilst at the same time “respecting individual privacy and free expression rights, encouraging innovation, and supporting the broader public interest.”

So far, the Hewlett Foundation has pledged $65m (£42m) to strengthening cybersecurity, which is apparently the largest-ever private commitment to this field. The goal of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is to “help people build measurably better lives.”

cyber war - Shutterstock: © jcjgphotography“Choices we are making today about Internet governance and security have profound implications for the future,” said Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation. “To make those choices well, it is imperative that they be made with a sense of what lies ahead and, still more important, of where we want to go. We view these grants as providing seed capital to begin generating thoughtful options.”

“I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Larry Kramer throughout this process,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “His dedication and the Hewlett Foundation’s remarkable generosity provide an opportunity for MIT to make a meaningful and lasting impact on cybersecurity policy.”

The funding for the three American universities will allow each institution to take complementary approaches to addressing the cyber-security challenge. MIT’s CPI for example will focus on establishing quantitative metrics and qualitative models to help inform policymakers.

Meanwhile Stanford’s Cyber-X Initiative will focus on the core themes of trustworthiness and governance of networks. And over at UC Berkeley’s Center for Internet Security and Policy, the funding there will allow it to assess the possible future developments of cybersecurity.

For its part, MIT’s CPI will utilise scholars from three key disciplinary pillars, namely engineering, social science, and management. Engineering expertise is needed in order to understand the architectural dynamics of the digital systems in which risk occurs. Social science should help explain institutional behaviour and frame policy solutions, while management scholars offer insight on practical approaches to institutionalise best practices in operations.

Across The Pond

“We’re very good at understanding the system dynamics on the one hand, then translating that understanding into concrete insights and recommendations for policymakers,” said Daniel Weitzner, the principal investigator for the CPI and a principal research scientist in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “And we’ll bring that expertise to the understanding of connected digital systems and cybersecurity.”

In the UK meanwhile, Prime minister David Cameron has pledged to shore up Britain’s digital defences, when he announced in July a £1.1 billion spending package for the UK’s defence industries, which includes funding to tackle cyber crime and cyber terrorism.

The UK Government has also pledged to give a total of £4 million to small businesses that can develop new ways to tackle cyber security threats.

Earlier this year, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the UK government’s innovation agency, awarded grants worth almost £400,000 to seven cyber security start-ups located in the Severn Valley – an area which was identified as the most important security hub of the country.

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