That Was Fast: Hewlett Funded MIT Cybersecurity Consortium Launches

We’ve given Hewlett's Cybersecurity Initiative attention for some pretty good reasons. Hewlett has charged into a space that's been dominated by industry and government, yet largely ignored by the philanthropic world. The foundation has a great shot at helping to create a more balanced debate by scaling up a critical mass of expertise based in universities and think tanks. 

Hewlett has shown it can be nimble, too. Not long after it announced the $20 million initiative last year, it more than doubled its bet by awarding $15 million each to UC Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT.

Work is still ramping up at UC Berkeley and Stanford, but just a few months after Hewlett's $15 million pledge to MIT, that university has announced the launch of the MIT Cybersecurity Policy Initiative. Even by tech world standards, that was fast.

Related: Hewlett Is Upping Its Bet on Cybersecurity. Is the Money Flowing in the Right Direction?

MITs initiative will work three angles through its initiative—technology, public policy, and organizational management. The initiative combines the brainpower and expertise of researchers from MITs Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), the Sloan School of Management, the political science department, the economics department, and finally, from MITs Science, Technology, and Society program. The initial goal of the consortium is to help guide policymakers.

Last year, we voiced some doubts as to whether Hewlett was smart to rely so heavily on universities, which can move slowly, to advance work in a field that's changing at lightening speed. Well, MIT's fast clip shows that campus eggheads aren't always so lumbering. 

Regardless, the way Hewlett sees it, government and industry are already addressing the most immediate cybersecurity threats. The foundation views its role differently—to help bridge the gap between the immediate threats and long-term policies.

Related: Can Hewlett Really Break New Ground With Its Cybersecurity Initiative? Looks Like It

Additionally, cybersecurity is a nascent and largely disjointed field. But Hewlett has the resources to foster the kind of coherence and independence that we saw emerge during the Cold War around nuclear weapons—ensuring that the military-industrial complex didn't have a monopoly on those life and death issues. It's worth remembering that top universities, MIT included, also played a role in expanding the voices in that debate. 

In any case, Hewlett has hardly ignored think tanks. Since the program launched, Hewlett has awarded over $2.2 million in grants to think tanks, including policy shops such as the Center for New American Security, the Rand Corporation, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  

Hewlett’s Cybersecurity Initiative has almost reached its first anniversary and is intended to run for four more years until winding down around 2019 or 2020. There's a lot of ground to cover in a relatively short period of time.