Cyber Alliance Offers Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Cybersecurity

BU School of Law, Hariri Institute for Computing collaborate to find solutions to technology issues.

circuitHow can different disciplines address matters of cybersecurity, encryption, and the role of technology in committing and fighting crime? What social and legal problems arise with the introduction of new forms of technology? How can scholars from law, computer science, philosophy, and other fields work together to find solutions to these problems from an interdisciplinary perspective?

Such are just a few of the questions that the BU Cyber Security, Law and Society Alliance (Cyber Alliance) seeks to answer through a “collaboration between computer science researchers, law professors, and social scientists,” according to the alliance’s website.

The Cyber Alliance hosts a speaker series in which representatives from each field share their research with those from other fields. Past events include roundtable discussions, a brown bag lunch series, seminars, and national cybersecurity congressional briefings.

Join BU Law's IP law mailing listProfessor of Law Stacey Dogan says that the mission of the Cyber Alliance is “to engage computer science researchers and scholars with legal researchers and scholars to think together about how to approach these difficult legal and ethical questions that arise in a technological and networked world.”

A few years ago, some researchers at the Hariri Institute for Computing approached members of the BU Law community and proposed the collaboration, Dogan says.

The Hariri Institute is a university-wide unit that initiates, catalyzes, and propels computational and data-driven research across the landscape of academic disciplines at BU. According to Dogan, the institute examines computer science through a “broader societal perspective” by exploring the relationships between computer science and law, ethics and philosophy, as well as the role of technology in society.

The Cyber Alliance is spearheaded by the Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cyber Security (RISCS), a federated center at the Hariri Institute dedicated to promoting and coordinating research and education in system reliability and information security.

School of Law faculty include Associate Professor Ahmed Ghappour, Warren Distinguished Professor Wendy Gordon, Associate Professor Paul Gugliuzza, Associate Professor Rebecca Ingber, Professor Michael Meurer, Professor Nancy Moore, Clinical Instructor Andrew Sellars, and Associate Professor Rory Van Loo.

“Our goal is to build an interdisciplinary community that can think collectively about how to approach these questions,” Dogan says.

Mayank Varia, a research scientist at the Hariri Institute and co-director of RISCS, says he hopes that the interdisciplinary nature of the Cyber Alliance will facilitate in “language translation.”

“When you have just a single discipline… with a single focus and a single set of jargon, oftentimes it’s hard to understand more complex solutions to policies,” according to Varia. This jargon, he says, “influences the way [different disciplines] think about certain problems.”

The Cyber Alliance will “start a dialogue… between people from different backgrounds that are all interested in seeing different facets of similar problems that influence society,” he says.

“By understanding the greater motivations and intentions of other people, it helps each of us become better at our own field in terms of understanding what other people are asking for and how you can contribute.”

The Cyber Alliance has members from both BU School of Law and the Hariri Institute for Computing, but it isn’t limited only to faculty at BU—Dogan says the alliance has reached out to the larger Boston technology and law communities.

“Everyone is welcome, to the extent that they want to contribute to the national and international conversation about these issues.”

Among those issues are the Russian election hacking scandal and the recent security breach at Equifax. “All raise different legal, ethics, and tech questions,” Dogan says.

Varia notes that the issues that are currently posed by technology are “issues of scale.” While breaches in cybersecurity were possible 30 years ago, “the scale of those outcomes has become bigger.”

Moreover, Varia says that the current rate of advancement in technology is so fast that society doesn’t have the chance to adequately adapt to those changes. “The pace of technology growth is … fast and never-ending” with “no chance to reset,” he says. “Any potential concern is magnified.”

Andrew Sellars, director of the Technology & Cyberlaw Clinic at BU Law, says that the interdisciplinary perspective afforded by the Cyber Alliance gives its members the chance to consider these questions of technology not only within the field of computer science, but also in that of law.

Discussing research between the two programs “leads naturally to a lot of discussions about policy,” Sellars says. “The law is more than just what the statutes say—the law speaks to regulation as a general concept.”

As technology continue to develop, “whose burden it is to say that a particular technology should or should not exist, or should or should not be used in this way, will impact what actually gets developed and used,” Sellars notes.

“I hope and expect that together we’ll start seeing insights into both fields that we would not be able to see on our own,” he says.

Sellars also says that there are issues beyond cybersecurity that he hopes to address in the Cyber Alliance.

“I’m a big fan of finding interesting ways to leverage technology to answer legal questions or vice versa, but I’m also very wary of people using technology as the solution to all of our social ills.”

“Eventually, we’re going to find [that] these are societal questions of huge importance right now,” he says. “I think that the more perspectives that we have from different disciplines, the better the odds are that we’ll find good solutions.”

Reported by Kaya Williams (COM’20)

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