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From Cyber Security to Cyber Futures

From Cyber Security to Cyber Futures
And why it’s not called “cybersecurity”

Five years ago, Prof. Alex “Sandy” Pentland and I redefined online learning for a broad business audience, creating a community of over 15,000 innovators in 140 countries who still regularly meet, connect, and build new enterprises.  Our methods and approach have now become the standard for the world’s top 10 universities.  I’m working with Sandy and some other colleagues, notably Beth Porter of edX fame, to reinvent learning again, starting with Oxford Cyber Futures.

Most people, when they think “cyber”, they immediately marry it to “security”, so we get “cyber security” (or “cybersecurity” – more on that in a minute).  Sometimes you think about phrases like cyber resilience, cyber risk, and so on.  It turns out that’s only the beginning of the discussion.  There are new opportunities arising that can facilitate business growth, if you position yourself correctly to capitalize on the cyber future.

The story begins nearly two years ago with a drink at a pub in London.  Paul Trueman is a senior vice president in Mastercard’s Cyber & Intelligence division.  I’ve been working with Paul and his boss, Ajay Bhalla, for several years already on academic research around data privacy, data security, and similar topics. 

Paul had a vision.  What if there were a totally different way to engage with the world, and improve the quality of cyber readiness?  What if we could move people away from thinking about cyber in a fear-based model (“download this virus update or your brains will melt through your ears”) and move it to more of an opportunity-based model (“how many billions of upside can be realized with better cyber practice?”)  I had already worked Howie Shrobe and Sandy Pentland to put together a book, and felt there was more of a story to tell.  Beyond that, we have a chance help professionals learn how to apply these ideas in practice, and create new areas for growth.  For Paul’s part, this was a natural extension of the strategy Ajay Bhalla (President of Cyber & Intelligence at Mastercard) had been developing. 

Paul and I decided that we’d navigate this programme through the University of Oxford.  He and Ajay wanted to ensure it had intellectual integrity, that it was an Oxford programme, rather than a corporate initiative.  I’d been having a successful collaboration with faculty and the administration at the Saïd Business School, and had been building relationships across campus with departments like Computer Science, so we felt we could assemble the right mix of technical and commercial perspectives for a multidimensional view of not only what is, but what could be, and how business opportunity for banks, fintechs, and other institutions can arise in the process. 

Along our journey, we uncovered a bit of transatlantic trivia – common usage in the United States is “cybersecurity” and in the United Kingdom it’s “cyber security”.  I dimly recall navigating this question when we put together New Solutions for Cybersecurity (as the book was from MIT Press, it was spelled American-style).

We were successful in recruiting some of the world’s top games researchers to help us think through a novel cyber defense simulation that we’ve embedded into the curriculum.  We took an expansive, rather than narrow, view with Mastercard’s encouragement – we explore the ethical implications of biometrics and AI, for example, and provide a framework for what to do about it. 

Bringing together a new digital programme in the face of the COVID-19 lockdown has produced its own unique challenges (and ideas, since cyber attacks have gone up considerably in volume, something I’ll cover in a separate article – the black hat hackers are out in force). 

On the business side, our team is already well versed in remote work so we have only found it a modest burden to adapt.  The biggest issue for the company is that one of our Vice Presidents is trapped in Switzerland for the duration, but it’s turning into a bit of an advantage in terms of spanning time zones. 

Luckily, we captured quite a bit of our faculty videos before the travel restrictions came into place.  The main challenge for the programme has been around guest speakers, but we have come up with some clever workarounds that I think are going to fit easily within the programme design. 

I’m excited to share the culmination of years of thinking about how to make online learning truly excellent.  Can’t wait to see what our students say!

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