The Cybersecurity Game

Florida State University turns to a scavenger hunt to teach students and staff about online security risks.

STUDENTS AND STAFF are rarely as vigilant as they should be about cybersecurity, and that can be a problem for universities. To address that concern in a fun and memorable way, Florida State University ran a cybersecurity scavenger hunt last October on its main campus in Tallahassee as part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month. The campaign, sponsored by the university’s IT services department, used gamification to encourage individuals to take control of their digital lives and protect their personal information.

The game challenged participants to find, hidden around campus, abandoned laptops that had had the hard drives removed. On the screen of each of these laptops was a sticker that contained instructions and a unique URL for players to visit to answer a cybersecurity question.

When they answered correctly, they earned an entry into a prize drawing for an HP ProBook laptop. When they answered incorrectly, they were offered information about how malicious cybercrooks can be. For instance, players were asked to consider the following situation:

The hunt is on! Time to jump online and see if you can snag some of those new night vision goggles that were just released. You:

  • Grab your debit card and start combing the web for the best deal.
  • Settle on a webstore with “https” in the address bar and use your credit card.
  • Find a new site and store your data for quicker checkout in the future.

Participants who chose the middle answer learned that they had correctly identified the way to shop from a secure site with a low-limit credit card. If they picked either of the other answers, they were presented with information about why their answer was wrong and a description of a worst-case scenario.

For example, some participants received humorous responses such as, “Yikes! You also bought an Easy-Bake oven, plane ticket to Pyongyang, and zero-turn lawnmower. Looks like someone lifted your account info." They then were advised to use separate credit cards for online purchases and warned that they should be careful about where they save their credit card information online.

Just over 4,900 students and staff members participated in the contest. “We received a lot of great feedback and have a few ideas on how we can improve on the contest if we decide to do something similar in the future,” says Megan Del Debbio, marketing communications manager for FSU’s Information Technology Services.

And while the game was enjoyable, it had a serious message. “When you don’t practice good cybersecurity, you put not only your identity, but the whole university, at risk,” says Phil Kraemer, coordinator of security training.

“People need to be aware of cybersecurity threats and take the right steps to protect their digital lives. And the laptop scavenger hunt is a fun way to learn that.”