Diana Burley portrait

AU Women in Tech: At the Front Line of Cybersecurity

In a knowledge-driven world, cutting-edge research distinguishes universities, inspires talented students, and attracts top faculty. At American University, a high-profile cadre of women scholars is kicking those goals up a notch with groundbreaking research linked to one of the world’s most urgent challenges: cybersecurity.

Together, these researchers bring a multiplier effect to their work in the technology arena.

“Leading women across AU recognized the impact they could have on global tech policy if they collaborated in a systematic way,” said AU Vice Provost for Research Diana Burley, who joined the university in 2020 and began working to shape and implement the vision of a women in tech policy initiative.

“As a formal initiative, you establish structured mechanisms for collaboration. You bring greater visibility,” said Burley, who is also a professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy in the School of Public Affairs and has a faculty appointment with the Kogod School of Business as professor of IT and analytics. “As a university-wide initiative, we can engage sponsors who want to support complex research challenges in IT policy but do not know where to direct their support.

“We provide simplified access to the range of research centers working at the forefront of these issues,” she said.

Four of the scholars tagged to pioneer the initiative are global stars. Laura DeNardis, at the School of Communication, works at the intersection of government and technology. Last year, Wired UK listed her as one of “32 Global Innovators Building a Better Future.” In 2016, Slate said she was one of the seven most influential people in Internet governance, along with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

At the School of International Service, Audrey Kurth Cronin, who directs the Center for Security, Innovation, and New Technology, focuses on countering global disinformation. Her book, Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow's Terrorists, won the 2020 Neave Book Prize for “the most significant, original, relevant, and practically valuable contribution to the understanding of terrorism.” 

Kogod School of Business Professor of Info Technology and Analytics Heng Xu, meanwhile, examines equity and artificial intelligence (AI). She is a winner of the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER award. Her work is critical to AI governance, privacy protection, data ethics, algorithmic fairness, analytical transparency, and accountability.  

For her part, Burley creates cybersecurity awareness strategies that help consumers be informed, questioning, and engaged citizens. She also studies the development of the cybersecurity workforce and ways to strengthen cybersecurity across a range of institutions.  

“The majority of ransomware attacks exploit some type of human failure. My work focuses on developing educational awareness programs that reduce the number of times people misstep,” Burley said. “But because human mistakes will continue to happen, governments and businesses must also build systems that are resilient.”

Burley co-chaired the recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that gauges the Federal Aviation Administration’s cyber-readiness and lays out recommendations for shoring up the agency’s cybersecurity workforce.

AU’s location close to national and global policymakers, government agencies, the military, and international organizations make it a powerful hub for research. The women in tech policy initiative will accelerate the university’s role as a trusted source on cybersecurity issues.

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