Cybersecurity—and the lack thereof—is a constant topic in our digital age. But the way it’s represented in the media, particularly with the use of outdated stock photos and graphics, tends to be needlessly complex, and sometimes even comical.
Last year, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and OpenIDEO launched an international competition to address this lack of clear, compelling images to accompany journalism on these topics. Their Cybersecurity Visuals Challenge tasked participants with designing a new library of hoodie-free “hacker” images that can be freely used by news organizations and the like.
Yesterday, the top five winners of the global contest have been announced, representing artists and designers from India to Mexico, Australia, and the U.S.
“The challenges we face today online keeping networks and devices secure are far too complex to be illustrated by a shadowy figure in a hoodie hunched over a laptop,” Eli Sugarman, program officer at the Hewlett Foundation in charge of the Cyber Initiative, said in a statement. “Sophisticated organizations are attacking the security of the internet, and we believe the images produced by the participating artists will help increase understanding of these issues for policymakers and the broader public alike.”
Abraham Peña’s design targets phishing; in his graphic, he cleverly plays on the homonym by depitcing hackers as sharks circling an unassuming user.
Meanwhile, Afsal CMK illustrated encryption with accessible, brightly colored sketches. Claudio Rousselon’s detailed pen-and-ink drawings make cyber alliances look like the beautiful mess they are. Information warfare is represented by Ivana Troselj as a bird “mistakenly rearing a grenade in a nest of its own eggs,” and Mariah Jochai’s text-based graphic shows how hacking threats can hide in plain sight.
These creative, relatable images work to simplify the pitfalls of our tech-reliant world for the public. Since digital privacy is a necessarily complex facet of culture, it’s vital that a broad audience can grasp how high the stakes of creating a secure digital landscape is. Right now, publications and platforms rely on archaic—and inaccurate—stock images that depict hackers as goofy pranksters to illustrate security concerns that plague both major organizations and private citizens alike. The contest’s openly licensed designs, which are as varied as the individuals who imagined them, stand to help.
“We were thrilled by the passionate community of cybersecurity professionals and visual creators that joined this global call, committing their time and skills to this important work, together,” Jason Rissman, managing director at OpenIDEO, said in a statement.
Beyond the fame and glory of creating free stock images, the winners each received a $7,000 prize. (All 23 semifinalists received $500.) As we previously reported, the five finalists’ artwork will be available in the public domain, able to be shared and repurposed under an open Creative Commons license.