Back-to-school cyber reading – seven Stanford undergraduate theses reveal major themes for 2018-2019

As publics and policymakers are becoming more aware of the gravity of cyber related activities and potential disruption, Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation honors undergraduate alumni have produced cutting-edge work to address major cyber issues in their final theses.

The theses topics span computer systems design, deterrence, international cooperation, defense acquisitions, hacking, zero days, the intelligence community, big data, and special forces operations. They make an excellent back-to-school reading list for anyone interested in cyber security, policy, and foreign affairs.

Check out their work on major cyber threats, events and consequences through the links below:


Sharpening the Tip of the Spear: Evaluating Technology Integration in Special Operations Forces, by Sam Lisbonne (June 2018)

Lisbonne articulates three early warning indicators suggesting that U.S. Special Operations Forces acquisitions processes have begun to look more like that of traditional branches of the armed services. He goes on to discuss the best paths forwards for mitigating root causes driving this pattern.  

Cybersecurity Magic: Parallel Structures of Design by Hackers and Magicians, by Samuel Kasem Sagan (May 2018)

Sagan explains how cyber criminals are successful despite technical and well-organized efforts to defend against cyber-crime. He investigates the “art of deception” as it relates to espionage, warfare, politics, theatre, and magic. In comparing exploits and tricks, he demonstrates “how the design processes used by hackers have inherent structural similarities to those used by magicians.”

Star Wars, Poison Gas, and Cybersecurity: Lessons from the Past for a Better Future, by Rachel Hirshman (May 2018)

Hirshman’s recent thesis outlines the conditions necessary for the creation of a formal international agreement to regulate cyberspace. She draws on the efforts of the Reykjavik Summit and the Chemical Weapons Convention to find that the most influential factor for an agreement “is the willingness of parties to make reciprocal concessions during negotiations.”

Towards DIUx 2.1 or 3.0? Examining Defense Innovation Unit Experimental’s Progress Towards Procurement Innovation, by Gabriele Fisher (June 2017)

Fisher’s thesis examines the military outfit known as DIUx intended to expedite military acquisitions from smaller tech firms outside of major defense procurement working on novel technologies for defense. She weighs how sustainable the program is given their reliance on Other Transaction Authorities over traditional U.S. Department of Defense procurement processes.

In Data We Trust?: The Big Data Capabilities of the National Counterterrorism Center, by Ben Mittelberger (May 2016)

Mittelberger combines lessons of capabilities yielded by big data analytics with the mission of counterterror intelligence for the National Counterterrorism Center. He provides recommendations on how to adopt large-scale analytics exercises to benefit the intelligence community’s organizational capacity and structure.

Evaluation of the Analogy Between Nuclear and Cyber Deterrence, by Patrick Cirenza (May 2015)

Cirenza details where the analogies of nuclear and cyber weapons and deterrence are flawed. Although cyber weapons have potentially strategic impacts, they have thus far not reached a level of importance to cause “revolution in military affairs that developed into a strategic deterrent because of its unique characteristics” alike nuclear weapons.

Scalable Security: Cyber Threat Information Sharing in the Internet Age, by Connor Gilbert (May 2014)

Gilbert unpacks information sharing issues faced by the federal government when analyzing cyber threats related to private companies tied to U.S. critical infrastructure. An engineer by training, he applies a Computational Policy approach to bring “the power of the abstractions used in computer systems design to bear on difficult policy problems.”

Anarchy or Regulation: Controlling the Global Trade in Zero-Day Vulnerabilities, by Mailyn Fidler (May 2014)

Fidler reveals the trade mechanisms of zero-day vulnerabilities as they are traded and utilized by governments, militaries, intelligence operations, law enforcement agencies, and criminal organizations. Her work “demonstrates how difficult regulation of the global zero-day trade will be, signaling the pervasiveness of realpolitik in cyberspace.”