escape room

Cyber

The National Guard's cyber escape room

The Massachusetts Army National Guard is building a cyber and network security-themed escape room it can take to schools to get students interested in cybersecurity.

In November 2018, the guard contracted with Integrated Exhibits Inc. for a full-length trailer complete with two themed challenge rooms, each with seven computers – one mimicking a government office and the other designed to feel like a basement. Each room has a conference table with pop-up workstations, a desk, file cabinet, a wall-mounted touch-screen monitor, white boards and two pictures on the wall, each covering a safe with key-code access.  High-resolution cameras provide video feeds of the entire room. The door has five “locks,” which are actually non-functioning keypad replicas that are connected to a remote computer to change from red to green when unlocked.

The two challenge rooms are separated by a command room that houses the server and networking equipment and allows officials to assign and monitor challenges in both rooms.

Each room accommodates seven-member teams who solve five cybersecurity puzzles that deliver clues to physical puzzles that, when solved, unlock the five door locks.  Data and images for the challenges transmit to all screens equally and independently, incorporating and interacting with the trailer environment and physical puzzles.

The Massachusetts Army National Guard ordered up software for 25 individual puzzles similar to those found on the Defense Department's cyber recruiting site, www.cybermission.tech, where players get a sense of what it’s like to be a successful part of a cyber protection team.  Those challenges include writing a binary code that reveals a hacker's IP address, reviewing system logs to find suspicious activity and building a secure infrastructure that protects data as it moves from storage to a database.

Federal agencies have used the escape room idea to reinforce cybersecurity hygiene for employees. In March, the Federal Housing Finance Agency awarded a contract for cyber-themed escape room training at its headquarters, customized to FHFA IT and security policies. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency ran similar exercises last fall.

Cyber escape rooms are being used in state government as well. The Washington state Department of Revenue won the Office of CyberSecurity's escape room challenge that asked players to solve tech-related puzzles so they could access information on a laptop. The challenge's goal was to increase awareness about securing their digital information.

Virginia State Corporation Commission used an escape room to reinforce cybersecurity hygiene. Employees had a limited amount of time to use their training to solve puzzles related to a phishing attack.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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