Traditionally, cyber security can feel like an inaccessible topic, reserved for people who grew up tinkering with computers and subsequently encouraged to study maths and science at school. This stigma has resulted in a huge skills gap in cyber. To allow the sector to grow at the rate it has the potential to, we need to find innovative ways of introducing cyber to a wider audience. Essentially, to the people who may not have considered their skillset applicable, when in fact they have exactly what cyber needs to broaden its horizons and diversify knowledge.

"Gamification can increase engagement by as much at 60% as it makes monotonous or dense training both more enjoyable and memorable"

James Biggs, Co-founder and Director of Zubr

There are initiatives across the region popping up to help tackle this. Bristol & Bath Cyber is a member of the consortium tasked with expanding the CyberFirst Schools Programme, which seeks to address the problem from its roots by encouraging schools to engrain cyber education into their curriculum. But waiting for the next generation to pursue a career in cyber isn’t the only way we can catalyse change. Our friends over at Zubr have previously demonstrated how gaming can be one way to get people engaged in cyber security.

Zubr, the renowned Bristol-based augmented and virtual reality specialists, created an augmented reality cyber security game for the Mobile World Congress in LA back in 2018. They were briefed to create a way of showcasing the range of their client’s cyber security products and capabilities in a cutting-edge format to over 107,000 exhibition attendees. 

James Biggs, Co-founder and Director of Zubr, casts his memory back to tell us a bit more about the game and its reception, “As the world of cyber security remains a mystery to the majority of consumers, our game explained how cyber security works and demonstrated the need for services like our clients’ by placing players in situations that could be avoided through greater use of cyber security.”

Engaging audiences in cyber security

At a first glance, Augmented Reality (AR) and cyber security don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but this is a narrow-minded view. Cyber is interconnected with the gaming world; often the sector attracts individuals who have a passion for video games to embark on a career in cyber. The vast opportunities AR has to offer presents a perfect means to recreate what working in cyber could be like, whilst also making it accessible to draw in new individuals who may have not given cyber a second thought in the past. 

And even if this doesn’t turn into a potential career, general education on cyber security is becoming an increased priority as our lives are digitalised. A basic understanding of the threats cyber possesses is now essential in our everyday lives.

James explains how they approached the concept: “We commissioned a fabrication company to make an interactive, physical 3D model which lit up and could be controlled by MWC visitors. This represented a modern city and all the key entities within, including transport links, power sources, waterways and a financial district.

“Using our bespoke app, delegates could launch the AR game and explore this miniature world through the lens of cyber security. Areas of the city changed colour and flashed when under attack, with the augmented reality showing the physical ramifications of the hacking on the city infrastructure. Players had to become a cyber hero and save threatened or damaged parts of the city, thus showcasing the client’s offering.

“Delegates had to survive wave after wave of cyber attacks, protect the city’s vital infrastructure from crippling under the barrage of hacks by putting up shields, and compete against other players to become the ultimate cyber hero!”

Transforming the process into a superhero game got people interested – and it’s genuinely not a big leap from the reality of working in cyber security. Gamification highlights the exciting areas of this type of work, dispelling negative connotations that have bred from hearsay with little grounding in the truth. James explains, “Games are a ‘light’ way to explore and better understand abstract and complex topics like cyber security.

“Gamification can increase engagement by as much as 60% as it makes monotonous or dense training both more enjoyable and memorable. Elements like competition and time-sensitivity further increase a sense of realism and immersion, leading to up to 20% increase in focus and 40% increase in information retention.”

So whilst it doesn’t entirely replicate the realities, it gets people thinking in ways they may not have previously by making it an enjoyable, accessible experience. The reaction to the game was strong, and hosting it at the MWC was an ideal platform for the amalgamation of cyber and AR.

James tells us, “Almost 3000 people played the game throughout the five-day tradeshow. The AR game was a powerful way to visualise the clients’ products and capabilities and was a fun reprieve for delegates from listening to or reading information. Hundreds of people took selfies at the stand during the event, often featuring the 3D modelled city.”

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.