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Serious Games Advancing Community Cyber Security Capabilities

New Educational Games Designed At UTSA Teach Students About Cybersecurity

Two cybersecurity educational games to teach cryptography and cybersecurity principles to middle school students were made available for community input through the month of July.  
The UTSA Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS) designed the games as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant to develop effective ways that introduce students to cybersecurity principles through game-based learning platforms. The CIAS was seeking feedback from teachers and players while the games were available in their beta release form.

“In addition to the community’s help in identifying any potential bugs or connectivity issues, we are eager to determine a player’s overall reaction to the games and how well they’ve learned the concepts of transposition ciphers and cybersecurity principles,” said Larry Sjelin, director of game development at the CIAS.

Project Cipher is designed to introduce students to the concept of cryptography by showing players techniques for encoding or decoding secret messages, called ciphers. The various levels within the game teach students to identify what type of code is being used and then how to decode that message through an interactive platform.

The practical applications of cryptography are far reaching. Many organizations, both locally and abroad, use cryptography to encrypt documents, networks, emails and more. This skill set is also employed by governments, military and businesses.

Image credit: UTSA CIAS – Project Cypher Game

“Players can navigate Project Cipher through either a story mode or free play option,” added Sjelin. “Once they’re more familiar with the cryptography concepts, they can choose different levels of difficulty. But that’s just one game we’re beta testing right now. Our second education tool, Pyramid of Knowledge.”

Pyramid of Knowledge is designed as a testing tool to provide educators with the ability to build their own quizzes for use in the Pyramid quiz interface. This online tool supports automated scoring, randomized answer positioning and multiple-choice options. While it functions as a trivia game show that instructors can customize to fit their subject matter, Pyramid of Knowledge is pre-loaded with STEM-focused content in areas of cybersecurity and math.

Image credit: UTSA CIAS – Pyramid of Knowledge Game

Throughout both games, players earn coins, or points, for successfully completing a section of the game. Coins earned are transferred to the Cyber Threat Defender PC game, which launched on June 5.

“Our goal is to connect individual users through multiple games – Cyber Threat Defender, Pyramid of Knowledge and Project Cipher – into one network,” said Sjelin. “The game server only collects a player’s score, player status and overall points earned. This exchange of information is designed to encourage a player’s interest in cybersecurity fields.”

First launched in April 2016, Cyber Threat Defender was initially a multi-player collectible card game designed to learn essential cybersecurity concepts. Players must protect themselves from attacks while building robust networks in order to become a true Cyber Threat Defender! CTD was conceived as a complement to any STEM or cybersecurity curriculum, aiming at middle and high school students to gain insight about cybersecurity information and strategies through gameplay.

Image credit: UTSA CIAS - Cyber Threat Defender Card Game

Since then, the Cyber Threat Defender card game has been successfully integrated into 100+ schools and school districts with focused STEM programs on technology. Due to the high demand, developers at CIAS have launched an online version to give more students access to the game!

Image credit: UTSA CIAS - Cyber Threat Defender PC Game

The CIAS vision is to become the leader in the advancement of state and community cyber security capabilities and collaboration. The CIAS has successfully integrated efforts from academia, government and private industry. The result has been a dynamic team dedicated to infrastructure assurance, research and education.