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Spring 2021 course | JSIS 480/581: Global Cybersecurity

May 6, 2021

JSIS 480/581: Global Cybersecurity takes an area and international studies approach to investigating nation-state cybersecurity strategy and regional dynamics. Structured geographically, it addresses the cybersecurity strategies of major international actors, regional dynamics, famous cyberattacks, and the state of international cybersecurity, and involves instruction by guest experts.

JSIS lecturer Dr. Jessica Beyer

Dr. Jessica Beyer, who developed the course, is offering Global Cybersecurity this Spring Quarter, 2021. The Center for Global Studies recently interviewed Dr. Beyer to learn more about her perspectives on the course and the importance of studying cybersecurity today.

Because students of international politics are the people who will be able to explain why we see conflict and propose solutions to the underlying causes of conflict, it is really important that they have opportunities to learn about technology as a policy area.”

Could you tell us a little about the inspirations and/or process that led you to develop this course?

A few years ago, Felicia Hecker [Associate Director of the JSIS Middle East Center] approached me about the Title VI centers funding an area studies focused cybersecurity course. I was already teaching a class that looked at international cybersecurity issues through the lens of major policy debates (JSIS B 355/555) – such as encryption or the practice of stockpiling vulnerabilities. But that class does not dig into the nuances of country or region based cybersecuritychallenges, agreements, and opportunities. And it doesn’t spend as much time as I wanted on overall international questions – such as how we should think about cyberwar. I was very excited to have the chance to develop a course that tied this pressing policy issue to geographical context.

Why is this course particularly important today?

Cybersecurity is an extremely pressing policy issue for people in every part of the globe. Information technology and computing devices are ubiquitous and we continue to increase the number of devices connected to the internet in use in our environments. The increasing connectivity creates all kinds of security issues from individual level to international level risks and many of the tensions at the international level are related to nation-state cybersecurity strategy and regional dynamics. The major cyber-powers continue to engage in espionage, attack, and cyber-weapon development in the shadows while arguing on the international stage for agreements limiting cyberattacks. Meanwhile, conflicting norms of speech and human rights further frustrate international level agreements – although, there has been more success in regional level organizations. And, as new people arrive online across the world, whether through their phones or desktop computers, they and their data are immediately vulnerable.

While there are classes that deal with cybersecurity and information assurance from a technical perspective and cybersecurity policy issues from a US perspective at the UW and other universities, there are very few opportunities for students – particularly social science students – to engage with these questions from an area studies perspective. And, because students of international politics are the people who will be able to explain why we see conflict and propose solutions to the underlying causes of conflict, it is really important that they have opportunities to learn about technology as a policy area.

What are some key insights that you hope students will take away from this course?

I always want my students to leave my courses feeling empowered to discuss technology in relation to policy and geopolitics. I want them to gain the vocabulary and understanding of major “cybersecurity” events so they can have a conversation with practitioners as well in case this is an area they would like to pursue professionally. To do this I usually combine the coursework with an applied research project that makes them an expert in the intersection of technology and a particular place.

In addition, in all of my classes, I try to design assignments that give students practice producing the type of materials that they may have to produce professionally. To do this, I talk to my network in the private sector, NGOs, and government to survey what skills they would like to see applicants have.

How has studying and teaching about this topic impacted your life?

The biggest impact that studying and teaching this topic has had on my life has come through the students I’ve taught. It has been the greatest privilege to mentor so many smart and lovely people! It has made me feel like I am doing good in the world and I am grateful for that.

Is there anything else we haven’t asked that you would like to share? 

At the start of all of my classes I do a survey to get a feel for what students know, what they’d like to learn, and what they are nervous about related to my class. So many students tell me they were not sure they could take my classes because they do not have a technical background. My classes are designed for students without a technical background! So, I would like to take this space to say again – please do not be intimidated to take my classes. Technology policy is another policy arena like any other with its own set of specialized knowledge. But, there is nothing about it that makes it more difficult or exclusive than any other area.