Playing It Safe Online: NOVA Cybersecurity Lab Trains You to Carefully Navigate the Web

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With our ever-increasing connectivity and reliance on the internet, cybersecurity is a growing concern. Despite all the cautionary warnings about cyber safety, individuals, companies and government agencies still fall victim to attack.

So what does it take to stay safe? NOVA, in partnership with computer scientists and cybersecurity experts, created the Cybersecurity Lab, a digital platform designed to teach people about cyber threats and how to improve their own cybersecurity.

The Cybersecurity Lab is structured around an immersive and educational game. “The game is designed to teach players how to keep their digital lives safe,” says NOVA Labs Outreach Coordinator Ralph Bouquet. Players don the role of Chief Technology Officer for a new start-up company, with the responsibility of defending the fledgling company from cyber threats. At each level, players must decide on a defense strategy to invest the company’s limited resources before engaging in network battles. To reach higher levels, players must complete increasingly difficult ‘challenge rounds’.

“These challenges focus on three topics: computer coding, password security and cyber scams,what we call ‘social engineering,’” says Bouquet.  The coding challenge uses a Blockly a visual coding program as a user friendly way to introduce computer science concepts. The password security and social engineering challenges test players safety savvy.

    Take the challenge and learn about keeping yourself safe online
Take the challenge and learn about keeping yourself safe online

Within the first few levels, it is clear just how vulnerable we can be when we aren’t careful. In an early social engineering challenge, players have to find five differences between a fake Amazon website and the real Amazon website. These social engineering challenges are modeled after real life scams to illustrate where traps exist. The example screenshots are shockingly similar and the differences barely noticeable. And this when you are paying attention, just imagine if you aren’t.

The Cybersecurity Lab is one of five digital labs created by NOVA. The labs were created as a platform for students and lifelong learners to participate in real world investigations, and get a taste of authentic research and science. Unlike the other labs, the Cybersecurity Lab is focused more on education than research.

“Our content is aimed at sixth to twelfth graders and is designed to help educators incorporate computer science into their curriculum,” says Bouquet. “So we were surprised to learn that many adults find the game informative. In fact some companies are using the game as part of their training. It just shows how important and relevant cybersecurity is.”

NOVA Labs provides a wealth of teaching materials for their labs. On the teacher’s dashboard, there are suggested lesson plans, discussions points, videos, and online quizzes. The materials were designed to reinforce the Next Generation Science Standards. In addition, the Cybersecurity Lab has a Meet the Experts page where curious students can learn about various computer science careers and the qualifications required.

In the spring, NOVA Labs will launch the Evolution Lab, a gamified learning experience tackling evolution topics such as biodiversity, phylogenetic trees, and common descent. The lab is a collaboration with Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Life on Earth team. To learn more about the Cybersecurity Lab, or NOVA’s other digital labs visit their homepage.

Want more gaming themed citizen science projects to play with? We’ve got you covered! NOVA Cybersecurity Lab is part of SciStarter’s database featuring hundreds of citizen science projects you can do. Use the project finder to search for a project that you want to participate in!

Image Credits: NOVA Labs

Categories: Citizen Science, Computers & Technology, Gaming


About the Author

Carolyn Graybeal

Carolyn Graybeal

Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society's understanding of science.