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“A Cyber Security Adventure”: A Project on Improving High School Students’ Awareness on Cyber Security

Technological developments have taken the humankind many steps away in terms of improving standards of the daily life and making everything simpler to do. Nowadays, we can make many things by just surfing over the Web and using our personal information to buy something or complete some tasks even we are in a travel or walking to somewhere. But it is clear that more influence of the digital world has caused vulnerabilities, which threat our private information to be stolen by black hat hackers while it is processed or stored within the digital world. That has caused the field of cyber security to appear and make developments for making the digital world safer for us. But is everything ok since there are many kinds of security software and hardware components trying to protect us from attacks? Because there is the sensitive human factor in the center of all systems, the answer for that question is a big NO… Since the human factor has been known as a vital factor and it is important to educate people for having a desired level of awareness for cyber security, there is currently a great effort by educational institutions to prevent people from the latest tricks by black hat hackers. A remarkable project in this manner is from Turkey and it is called as “A Cyber Security Adventure” (In Turkish: “BSGM: Bir Siber Güvenlik Macerası”).

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Suspected characters in the project scenario

As written and managed by Assistant Prof. Dr. Utku Kose (from Dept. of Computer Engineering, Suleyman Demirel University, Isparta / Turkey), A Cyber Security Adventure is an educational project supported by The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK). The project has been supported by TUBITAK under the project group of 4004, which means that the projects supported under that ID should include educational activities for people in the heart of the nature. Considering that scope, Dr. Utku Kose has used some remarkable technologies like virtual – augmented reality and artificial intelligence to provide interactive, story based educational activities for high school students at the city of Isparta, Turkey.

Egirdir County of Isparta and the 'Island', where the nature camp was held
Egirdir County of Isparta and the ‘Island’, where the nature camp was held

With the project grant around of 15.000 Euro, A Cyber Security Adventure was built over two stages as follows:

  • Face-to-Face Training: That stage is five-day training for students in computer labs of Suleyman Demirel University (Dept. of Computer Engineering). The aim is to teach essentials of cyber security and make the students ready for the Nature Camp taking place in Egirdir county of Isparta, Turkey. Egirdir County is full of nature with the Egirdir Lake and with an old district called as Island where the Nature Camp is realized.
  • Nature Camp: That stage is nine-day accommodated camp and it is the exact adventure where students group in different teams and try to solve an interactive scenario by using their mobile devices, notebooks, computers…etc. by keeping in touch with the nature.

Two educational stages of the project were done between 27th August and 9th September 2018 and a total of 40 students from 10 local high schools in Isparta took place to experience the adventure. All teams were supervised by guides, who are academicians and some MSc. and PhD. students from the university and all the technological infrastructure was controlled by the remaining project staff. The adventure was briefly based on finding the black hat hacker among five suspicious shown to the students. At that point, all students have transformed into some kind of detective and ethical hackers (white hat hackers) to search for clues by searching for objects with augmented reality over QR codes, collecting special items and solving puzzles over mobile applications and using all gathered information to gain some points. According to gathered points, a special combinatorial optimization based artificial intelligence systems dynamically directs each team to newly determined sub-scenarios and puzzles of the main story. According to the dynamically created scenario flows, it was always not too clear for all teams if they were near to the end or not, but in time more efforts brought advantages and everything was easier to be solved at the end of the Nature Camp. Activities were supported with also special sports events, dramas, special quiz shows and many different activities allowing to gain knowledge and points.

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Project writer and manager Dr. Utku Kose

As indicated by project manager Dr. Utku Kose, some important points of the A Cyber Security Adventure are as follows:

  • It is interesting that the exact story was all in my mind as written by me and because of that, even other project staff did not know anything about the flow. So, not only students but also their guides were motivated to take the control, defeat other teams and search always for the happy end.
  • Combination of the Egirdir nature (green areas, the lake, old buildings with narrow old roads) and technological components of virtual – augmented reality or artificial intelligence made everything enjoyable for everybody. It was great for the students to interact with the real world but find some virtual objects and again use those objects to talk with some real people for taking clues, and the ability of artificial intelligence system for directing teams for better combinations of solution nodes allowed everything to complete in optimum time and entertainment level.
  • Activities done in especially Nature Camp have enabled students to learn more about searching for information, analyzing situations and designing alternative solutions for different problems. They were motivated to also work individually and in groups, take responsibilities, and also directing team members to do some tasks.
  • In time, the project created its own eco system, which means that some teams built fake objects for trolling other teams. Some teams tried to cooperate and sometimes the level of competition and ambition was improved great so that there were short, simple fights or discussions among people. But at the end, everything was great for everybody and all of us have learned many things from that adventure.

Results from the project are provided to the scientific literature nowadays via articles, conference papers, chapters, and even presentations made in different events. On the other hand, it is already planned to establish new versions of the project. Dr. Utku Kose and the project staff also think about moving the project to a wider, international audience. For more information, the Web site of the project can be visited here: http://sdubsgm.com/

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