Apr 29, 2016

Researchers Imagine the Future of Cybersecurity in 2020

How might individuals adapt to a world in which all online activity is assumed to be accessible by hackers? How could the proliferation of networked appliances, vehicles, and devices transform human society? What would be the consequences of powerful algorithms capable of predicting human behavior at a granular scale?

These are among the questions considered in “Cybersecurity Futures 2020,” a set of five scenarios released yesterday by the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC), a research and collaboration center at the UC Berkeley School of Information.

The Cybersecurity Futures 2020 scenarios are intended to help identify emerging areas of interest for researchers at UC Berkeley and beyond. The scenarios were presented at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to audience of invited representatives from government, industry, and other organizations.

“Cybersecurity is one of the fastest moving targets in today’s research and policy domains,” explained professor Steve Weber, faculty director of the CLTC. “We need to try to look ahead systematically, if we are going to have a chance of really protecting the core values we care about where human beings and digital technologies intersect.”

The Center’s five scenarios imagine a world where computer algorithms are capable of predicting — and manipulating — the people’s behavior with a high degree of accuracy; where economic collapse puts our private information on the market to speculators or criminals; where wearable devices track our thoughts and emotions, leaving us vulnerable to surveillance, hacking, and blackmail; where the Internet of Things (IoT) takes control of more and more of our lives; and where widespread distrust of institutions’ security results in a digital “Wild West” of lawlessness.

The scenarios are not predictions, the researchers stress; it’s impossible to make precise predictions about such a complex set of issues. Rather, the scenarios paint a landscape of future possibilities, exploring how emerging and unknown forces could intersect to reshape the relationship between humans and technology and what it means to be “secure.”

“Scenario thinking has really encouraged us to stretch our imaginations and expectations about the future of cybersecurity,” said Betsy Cooper, executive director of the CLTC. “We hope the scenarios will do the same for others who engage with them, and that they will inspire others to begin to prepare now for those possible futures.”

The scenarios will inform CLTC’s research agenda and serve as a starting point for conversation among academic researchers, industry practitioners, and government policymakers. They provide a framework for questions we should be asking today to ensure a more secure information technology environment in the future.

The full report can be accessed online at, or as a PDF.

The CLTC welcomes feedback about the scenarios; follow the CLTC on Twitter at @CLTCBerkeley, or contact them at

Last updated:

October 4, 2016