When Ulysses returns to Ithaca, after 20 years, his dog identifies him by his smell, his nurse recognizes a scar that was made hunting wild boars, and his wife, Penelope, is definitely convinced that it is him when he manages to draw his bow and make an arrow pass through the eye of twelve axes. Who was going to tell Homer that his story would one day help Luca Viganò, a professor at King’s College London, explain to expert and lay audiences the keys to a fundamental concept of something called cybersecurity: multifactor authentication.
Viganò has been using examples taken from cinema and other arts for more than 15 years to bring this area closer to all types of audiences. “I am the synthesis of my parents: a computer science and a film and theater critic. It is part of my heritage and I am lucky to have a relatively good memory ”, recalls the teacher, who also writes plays. Among the results of these circumstances is a scientific article with an also unexpected title: Nicolas Cage is the center of the cybersecurity universe. With this recently presented work, the researcher proposes 15 films by the award-winning and reviled American actor whose plots exemplify key concepts of cybersecurity and closes a trilogy of articles with which he has tried to demonstrate the potential of these models.
“I have taught cryptography and network security for many years. They are very mathematical courses, and I thought it would be a good idea to give the students a break. My students love these videos not only because they give them a break, but because they create a connection with reality, ”explains Viganò, who also directs the Cybersecurity research group in the Information Technology department of King’s College. Given the success, the teacher set himself the challenge of taking these examples out of the classroom. “I wanted to see if I could achieve the same effect: awaken the intuition. Later, if people are interested, they can investigate the mathematics or computer science behind it, but if they at least grasp the intuition part, they may be less afraid of cybersecurity, understand it more, and do their tasks even better. prevention ”.
Ex-convicts and Peppa Pig
They don’t have to be hooded hacker movies. In fact, although these feature films are also interesting, they are not always the best source of examples: “Movies often portray hackers as superheroes capable of figuring out a password in seconds. This creates a distance because we immediately understand that they are not normal people ”, reasons Viganò. In the selection for his latest article, Cage plays an ex-con on parole, an arms dealer, a magician and a treasure hunter, among others. The cinema is not the only source either. “I have examples of books, songs, works of art, dances … A colleague gave me an example taken from Peppa Pig,” he says.
The fundamental thing is that these little stories awaken an intuitive understanding of what these concepts contain: “It is another way to convey the main ideas and their importance through a language that reaches everyone. I try to generate empathy in people, that they feel that although this is something technical, it is important and they can understand it, at least up to a point ”. With these ingredients, the expert finds a way to portray the role of concepts such as anonymity, encryption, denial of service attacks, social engineering, biometrics or surveillance systems. “We experts are doing a bad job explaining cybersecurity to ordinary people. We say that they are the weak link, the ones who make the mistakes, the ones who create the vulnerabilities. But why would they have to have the necessary knowledge if we don’t share it? ”Asks the teacher.
“We need to find a different language. We can’t explain the math behind anonymity. We have to give them insights, ”he insists. How? In this specific case, with a scene from the mythical Spartacus (1960). After the defeat in the battle of the Silario River, the slave played by Kirk Douglas and his men are captured. When they are offered to hand over their leader in exchange for saving their lives, the rest of the defeated stand up to affirm: “I am Spartacus.”
The emotional scene is for Viganò a perfect example of what is known as an anonymity set and how this can be achieved online. “You cannot be anonymous on your own. If you are the only individual doing something, you can be easily tracked. But if many people do the same, if they say they are Spartacus, if they send emails at the same time, they are protected, “he sums up.
And Nicolas Cage? While building his database of examples, Viganò noticed the recurrence of titles where this actor – who has more than a hundred filming behind him – was part of the cast. Inspired by the game Six degrees from Kevin Bacon, which stems from the idea that any actor could connect with Kevin Bacon in six or fewer jobs and, jokingly, placed him at the center of the universe, he wondered if the protagonist of Leaving Las Vegas It would not be your counterpart when it comes to cybersecurity. “I like Nicolas Cage. He has made some very bad films and some very good ones. I think this is a good tribute. To be honest with you, I would love for you to find out about this, I think you are crazy enough and interested in technology that you like it, “he admits.
The next step in Viganò’s research is to empirically demonstrate the effectiveness of his method. For now, the results are promising. “We have done two studies asking lay people if they understand certain notions of cybersecurity. So we put a clip of a movie on them and ask them if their understanding has changed. The answer is overwhelmingly yes ”, advances the teacher, who hopes to publish these works soon.
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Nicolas Cage and Peppa Pig can teach you the keys to cybersecurity | Technology