Cybersecurity Arts, Imagery, and Games

The conceptual and practical aspects of the term “cybersecurity” are evolving rapidly, as what we mean by “cyber” and “security” is changing in ways that would have been almost unimaginable a few years ago. Contemporary tropes of security’s representation (e.g., the “hacker in the hoodie,” the “scrolling green code,” etc.) fail to capture the gravity, impact, and reach of security in daily life. As such, the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity’s Daylight Security Research Lab has developed diverse initiatives focused on challenging and updating security’s representation and discourse in the public sphere.

Cybersecurity Arts Contest

Through the Cybersecurity Arts Contest, CLTC hopes to expand public dialogue around — and awareness of — cybersecurity. Among the questions the Cybersecurity Arts Contest seeks to explore are:

  • Who, outside of the popular imagination of “hackers in hoodies,” participates in digital security?
  • Who is responsible for digital security?
  • Whom does security affect?
  • What does security look and feel like to these different actors?
  • What are new ways of representing the human impacts of security’s failures?

Read about winners of our 2021 Cybersecurity Arts Contest.

Artists from around the world submitted proposals that were reviewed by an interdisciplinary committee and judged for artistic merit, relevance, feasibility, and potential impact, including how they might influence other artists or reach particular audiences.

Previous arts contest winners

Read an interview with artist Joyce Lee.

Watch recordings of events featuring our inaugural Cybersecurity Arts Contest winners.

We invited several of our contest prize winners to come back and present their finished work to a global audience which brought together members of the cybersecurity research community with the arts community. In addition to showcasing new ways of representing the human impacts of security, the events featured conversations with special guest interlocutors to discuss how new alternatives to contemporary tropes might reshape the way policymakers, technical practitioners, and the general public make decisions about security.

More previous arts contest winners

Cybersecurity Imagery Dataset

Remember when Senator Ted Stevens said the Internet was a “series of tubes?” Well, back in the 90s, people talked a lot about the “information superhighway.” Do a Google image search for that phrase. You’ll see a lot of tubes.

The way we represent technical concepts visually shapes how people understand them, which in turn affects how and why decisions are made. In this project, we investigate security’s visual representations. We’ve collected two years’ worth of Google Image Search results, from 28 different search terms.

We’re continuing to crunch the seven gigabytes of imagery data we’ve collected. We’ll update this site as we publish our findings. In the meantime, if you’d like to explore the data yourself, grab the full dataset on Kaggle.

Read more about the Cybersecurity Imagery Dataset

colors of cybersecurity

Cyber Visuals is a project of the Hewlett Foundation Cyber Initiative. Openly licensed and free to use, the images on this website were originally created for the Cybersecurity Visuals Challenge, a partnership with OpenIDEO.

The images on this website were created by talented artists, graphic designers and other visual creators around the world, with support from a group of cybersecurity experts who helped them ensure the images they created for the Challenge were grounded in a solid technical foundation. The individual graphics and visual metaphors they developed are the beginning of a new, richer, and more inclusive visual language for cybersecurity, opening up a critically important conversation to more people who need to know about it.

Learn more about the Cyber Visuals Challenge

Examples from the Cyber Visuals project

Adversary Personas

Adversary Personas is an improvisational role-playing game designed to help teams think broadly and creatively about their cybersecurity threats. The game focuses on the who of security, by forcing players to ask: who might our adversaries be, what do they want, and what would they be willing to go through to get it? The game can be played by teams of employees in any organization. It is recommended for groups of between 2-10 people.

How to Play

Adversary Personas cards

Related Research Publications

Security Games

Nick Merrill. Security Fictions: Bridging speculative design and computer security. DIS ’20.

Security and Design Research

Sandjar Kozubaev, Chris Elsden, Noura Howell, Marie Louise Juul Søndergaard, Nick Merrill, Britta Schulte, Richmond Y. Wong. Expanding Modes of Reflection in Design Futuring. CHI ’20.

Richmond Y. Wong, Vera Khovanskaya, Sarah E. Fox, Nick Merrill, Phoebe Sengers. Infrastructural Speculations: Tactics for designing and interrogating lifeworlds. CHI ’20.

James Pierce, Sarah E. Fox, Nick Merrill, Richmond Y. Wong. Differential Vulnerabilities and a Diversity of Tactics: What toolkits teach us about cybersecurity. CSCW ’18.

James Pierce, Sarah E. Fox, Nick Merrill, Richmond Y. Wong, Carl DiSalvo. An Interface Without a User: An exploratory design study of online privacy policies and digital legalese. DIS ’18.

Nick Merrill. Better Not to Know?: The SHA1 collision & the limits of polemic computation. LIMITS ’17.

Biosensors and Wearable Computers

James Pierce, Richmond Y. Wong, Nick Merrill. Sensor Illumination: Exploring design qualities and ethical implications of smart cameras and image/video analytics. CHI’20.

Nick Merrill, John Chuang, Coye Cheshire. Sensing is Believing: What People Think Biosensors Can Reveal About Thoughts and Feelings. DIS ’19.

Nick Merrill, John Chuang. Models of Minds: Reading the mind beyond the brain. alt.chi ’19.

Richmond Y Wong, Nick Merrill, John Chuang. When BCIs have APIs: Design fictions of everyday brain-computer interface adoption. DIS ’18. Honorable mention

Nick Merrill, John Chuang. From Scanning Brains to Reading Minds: Talking to engineers about brain-computer interface. CHI ’18.

Nick Merrill, Coye Cheshire. Trust Your Heart: Assessing cooperation and trust with biosignals in computer-mediated interactions. CSCW ’17. Honorable mention

Nick Merrill, Coye Cheshire. Habits of the Heart (rate): Social interpretation of biosignals in two interaction contexts. ACM GROUP ’16.