Roll for Initiative! Gaming in Cybersecurity Training

Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat!

We learned last week that cybersecurity training is not as simple as choosing a particular training and rolling it out – training methods, goals, and context all determine the effectiveness of the training. While interactive training engages trainees and helps with understanding and motivation, the type of interaction matters. Simulations such as the phishing simulation test can backfire if not planned and deployed with care, but other types of interactive training engage users in a more controlled space and minimize unintended consequences… and you might level up in the process.

Games in training are not new, but turning training into a game by incorporating game elements or using existing games to teach particular concepts has grown in popularity in the last couple of decades. You’ve encountered gamification in other areas of your life – badges, leaderboards, and point systems, to name a few. These elements play into common human desires and motivations, such as collaboration/competition and accomplishment, which in turn can boost morale and knowledge retention. When combined with story elements and a positive reinforcement approach, training with game elements have a better chance overall of being more effective than traditional lecture-based training.

Libraries are no stranger to gamification. Academic, school, and public libraries use gamification for instructional sessions as well as patron programs. ALA has a Games and Gaming Round Table, as well as several resources for libraries, including two new books published this year about gamification in academic libraries and ready to use gamified programs for libraries of all types. It wouldn’t be a big stretch, therefore, for libraries to incorporate game elements or entire games into a training program, including cybersecurity training.

What does gamification look like in security and privacy training? Here are a few examples that you can use for both staff and patrons:

  • Tally Saves the Internet – This browser extension turns the Internet into a turn-based RPG where you fight an invisible enemy – online trackers. Players not only gain points and badges for fighting these online tracker monsters but also actually blocks trackers 😊
  • Cybersecurity Training for Youth Using Minecraft: A Field Guide – You can use existing games to teach cybersecurity, too! This field guide provides ways in which library staff can use Minecraft to teach patrons threat modeling in a way that doesn’t require prior knowledge of cybersecurity concepts but instead uses an environment the patrons might already be familiar with in their daily lives.
  • Tabletop exercises – unlike the other two examples above, tabletop exercises (TTE) have been around for a while in the cybersecurity world. One common TTE in cybersecurity is incident response, going through how an organization would respond to a particular scenario, such as a data breach. Think of it as a one-shot TRPG, but you role play as yourself, and your abilities and inventory consist of whatever policies, procedures, and resources you have in your organization at that moment. You can include other gaming elements and methods within TTE, such as Lego Serious Play, for additional collaborative/competitive opportunities in the scenario.
  • Cybersecurity games – There are several off-the-shelf cybersecurity games that you can use in existing training or at game night at your library!

There are many paths to incorporate game elements into cybersecurity training, so the best approach to take is to, well, play around and find which ones best fit your training audience. Don’t forget to have fun in the process, and may the dice roll in your favor!

Friendly Phishing, or Should You Phish Your Own Staff?

Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat!

October is a very important month. Not only does October mean Halloween (candy), it also means Cybersecurity Awareness Month. This month’s TotH posts will focus on privacy’s popular sibling, security. We start this month by focusing on one common “trick” – phishing – and why not all cybersecurity training is created equal.

A hooded middle aged white man wearing sunglasses laughs as he holds a fishing pole with a USB drive at the end of the line.
This is also the month where we get to use our favorite phishing stock photo. Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hivint/36953918384/.

We wrote more about phishing in a previous post if you need a refresher; the tl;dr summary is that phishing is a very common attack method to gain access to a variety of sensitive systems and data by pretending to be an email from a trusted source (business or person). Phishing can be very costly on both a personal level (identify theft) and an organizational level (ransomware, data breach, etc.), so it’s no wonder that any digital security training spends a considerable amount of time on teaching others on how to spot a phishing email and what to do to prevent being phished.

It turns out that this type of training, for the amount of time spent in covering avoiding phishes, might not be as effective, and in some cases, can actively go against the goal of the training itself. A good portion of cybersecurity training comes in the way of lectures or an online web module, where users listen/read the information and are then tested to assess understanding. While that has been the main mode of training in the past, lecture/quiz style training, trainers realize that interactive training that goes beyond this model can be more effective in knowledge retention and understanding.

A growing number of organizations are using another type of security training – sending out phishing emails without warning to their employees. The phishing email, created by an external cybersecurity training company or by the local training team, would be sent out to spoof ether an organizational email or an email from a trusted source. This live test, theoretically, would more accurately assess employees’ knowledge and awareness of phishing methods and provide on-the-spot results, which could include corrections or remedial training. There are a variety of vendors offering both free and paid tools and services, such as KnowBe4 and PhishingBox.

Simulated phishing tests appear like a great addition to your organization’s training approach; however, these simulated tests can backfire. One way it can backfire is turning staff against the organization. One recent example of this comes from a simulated phishing email sent to Tribune Publishing staff, promising staff a chance of a company bonus if they clicked on the enclosed link. This email was sent out after staff went through furloughs and other drastic budget cuts, and the staff reaction to this email led to further erosion of trust between employees and administration. The debate extended to the security field, questioning the ethics of using content that otherwise is used in common phishing emails in an organization where employees went through considerable stress due to budget cuts. 

Another way simulated phishing tests can backfire is when the tests focus on shaming or negative outcomes. Some phishing tests focus on those who do not spot the phish, providing on the spot corrective training or assigning the employee to a future training. However, research has shown that focusing on shaming to correct behavior doesn’t work in the long term and might lessen the chance of someone reporting a possible phishing email or other cybersecurity issues to the organization. Negative reinforcement serves to create a more insecure organization by creating an environment where staff either are not motivated to or fear reprimand if they report a cybersecurity issue.

The use of simulated phishing tests will be the topic of debate for some time, but this debate presents two takeaway points to consider for any type of cybersecurity training:

  1. Context and methods matter – simulated tests can be effective, but the test’s logistics – including timing and content – can work against the desired outcomes of the trainers. Trainers should also consider the current state of the organization, such as staff morale and major crises/events in the organization, in choosing and developing cybersecurity training for staff. Another thing to consider is the effectiveness of training methods, including how often training has to be repeated to keep staff current on cybersecurity threats and procedures.
  2. Positive reinforcement – positive reinforcement, such as awarding staff members who do not click on the test phish email, can help with creating a more security-conscious organization. 

Next week we will dive into another type of cybersecurity training that is a simulation of another kind – stay tuned!

Privacy Film Party

Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat!

Even if the groundhog in your area didn’t see their shadow yesterday, we in the Northern Hemisphere still have a long winter ahead of us. How will you spend the long winter nights for the next few months? Might we suggest that you stay inside where it’s warm and watch a film? Better yet, make that film about privacy! Here are some privacy film recommendations depending on what you’re looking for:

For library programming about data and privacyScreening Surveillance [Content warning – suicide, mental health illness] is a grant-funded project to raise awareness around big data and surveillance. The project produced three short films – 10 minutes in length each – approaching specific issues of data sharing, data ownership, and sensor and facial recognition software. These three short films come with facilitation guides that help audiences process and discuss the specific issues raised in each film.

For a succinct introduction into general privacy concepts Privacy International’s Privacy 101 is a series of short animated videos introducing viewers to the concept of privacy as well as various topics in privacy, including metadata, big data, and data protection. These videos are a good way to acquaint someone with privacy concepts, in short, bite-sized portions. These videos are short enough that you can use these videos in staff training or discussions around privacy, as well as any public programming around data security and privacy.

For when the college instructor gives you the entire class session to teach their class about privacyThe Power of Privacy by The Guardian is a 30 minute documentary about the major challenges to privacy in the digital age. The film provides a balance between the historical “how did we get here?” and the present and near-future realities of data privacy. Library workers have choices in using this film to teach privacy, either by choosing to show segments to focus on specific topics, like phishing or IoT, or show the entire film for a holistic view of the current issues around data privacy.

For the library worker who is trying to navigate student privacy – Student privacy is governed by additional regulations, such as FERPA, which makes protecting student patron privacy more complex in academic and school libraries than in other libraries. The School Safety and Privacy video series from Future of Privacy Forum delve into this complex topic, including approaching the creation of policies, digital equity, facial recognition in schools, and how to talk to administrators and leadership about privacy matters.

BONUS! If you want more videos on student privacy, The Student Privacy Resource Center has a playlist to meet your additional student privacy video needs.

Finally, an artistic philosophical video for your night offPhilosophy Tube’s video on Data [NSFW – language, adult topics] gets into data, surveillance, algorithms, machine learning, structural inequality, targeted advertising, monetization of data, consent, notice, data rights, and how technology shapes society and how society shapes technology (phew!). All of this takes place in a 30-minute discussion-turned-machine-learning-simulation between a bouncer and a person in front of a nightclub.

There are plenty of other videos and films on privacy not covered here, but these recommendations are just a start. If you have a privacy-related film or video that you like, reply to this email and we’ll provide a list of subscriber-recommended videos in a future newsletter.