Why use branching web comics for cybersecurity education?
Nearly a decade ago, the Secure Decisions team created branching, graphic comics by hand for a cybersecurity education research project. The resulting web comics were well received but fairly expensive to create: each one took about a man month of time, and required both a graphic artist and a computer programmer to put together.
Why did we spend all that time creating web comics for cybersecurity education? Stories are how we pass all kinds of knowledge on to children. And as I know from personal experience, most cybersecurity practitioners have a number of “war stories” they share with others about the terrible impacts from a cyber incident, or how they were able to avert a potential disaster. Stories are not constrained by the actual passage of time or a geographic location, they can be broad expansive or dive deeply within a very narrow window, whichever better suits the needs of the storyteller. Stories allow us to explore what could be or what might have happened.
Stories are very useful learning tools, yet they say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and so educational comics were born: a story told through a sequence of pictures with minimal text. In a comic, the reader’s attention can be subtly focused on key details that are truly important to comprehending what actually is happening.
Branching comics can be a great way for learners of all ages to explore cyber events, by helping them comprehend the interaction of cause and effect in cyber events and concepts, by making decisions and seeing the outcomes. The effects of a cyber decision are often not visible to the human that made the decision because they occur too fast, and may result in downstream impacts – things that happen somewhere else or to someone else.
In the context of this style of education—branching web comics—Comic-BEE is a key enabler, a central component of the operational concept of use. This is because without the Comic-BEE technology, it is highly unlikely that the concept of storytelling with branching web comics would ever be applied to the domain of cybersecurity—or any domain, for that matter.
Comic-BEE has been used successfully with positive feedback from users in very different environments, for example:
Teams at the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition used Comic-BEE on day 1 of both the 2015 & 2016 competitions to create comics intended to educate the employees of the fictional companies the teams were defending. As part of an NSF-funded after school workshop with middle school kids, students read cybersecurity comics and used Comic- BEE to create their own comic stories about a cyber crime investigation. College students were asked by instructors to create branching web comics to demonstrate their understanding of social engineering or computing ethics.
Comics created with Comic-BEE have addressed a wide range of cyber security concepts:
Cyber Ethics: a seventh grade student running for student council navigates issues like copyright, social media, and appropriate computer use.
Phishing: stories for the workforce about the danger of spoofed emails that appeared to come from colleagues.
Computer Hygiene: keeping personal computing devices clean by updating operating systems and applications, using anti-virus and firewalls, configuring browsers and wireless routers.
Strong Authentication: stories for the workforce describing strong authentication and its benefits.
Cyber crime investigation: a cyber crime investigation based on the real-world Lurk malware that also explores different cyber work roles involved in the investigation.
Nmap, the command line network scanning tool: a scored comic to evaluate if learners know the correct commands to achieve the desired outcomes, and if can they interpret output from the nmap tool.
Windows OS security configuration: a series of comics that help the reader understand how to improve Windows OS security through configuration options such as audit policy, account policy, remote settings and group policy.
To sum up: Comic BEE allows you to rapidly create branching web comics that are interactive curriculum, without a programmer or graphic artist. All you need is your imagination and your HTML5 compliant browser.
In future posts, we’ll look at some strategies to developing your branching story, and see how some college professors are using branching comic assignments instead of term papers.