Cybersecurity Imagery: Can We (Finally) Make It Hoodie-Free?

Whenever you encounter an article about cybersecurity, it usually comes with an ominous stock-art photo of a “hacker” in a hoodie, often typing on a laptop in a darkened room. It’s a lazy way of picturing cyber-attackers, and one organization wants to do something about it.

OpenIDEO’s new “Cybersecurity Visuals Challenge” wants to “reimagine the visual language of cybersecurity by elevating more representative imagery.” To that end, the firm—a civic-minded offshoot of the IDEO design consultancy—will pay lucky winners who come up with the most compelling images that “represent different terms and ideas in the cybersecurity space in an accessible and compelling way.”

In addition to designing something “visually compelling,” contestants must also portray cybersecurity “accurately.” For your convenience, OpenIDEO has a webpage full of images that won’t work, including shadowy figures in hoodies, shadowy figures in ski masks, locks, and lines of green code right out of the “Matrix” films.

In other words, if you submit to this contest, and you dare dress anyone in your image in a hoodie, you can kiss your reward money goodbye. In addition to five winners who will receive $7,000 each, OpenIDEO will pay 25 “shortlisted contributors” $500 plus “mentorship” from a “cybersecurity expert.”

Don’t even think about submitting something like this to OpenIDEO. They will hunt you down. We’re not kidding.

Like any good design firm, OpenIDEO has also included “personas,” or fictional examples of people who could end up using this new-and-improved stock art. They include this one:

Persona 4: High profile journalist

Kristin is a high profile business journalist for a major national publication in the United States with a large national following. With the ever heightening risk of privacy within her work to protect her sources, and knowing several colleagues who have been the victim of hacks, she has begun to write articles about the importance of data privacy for the business sector. She is frustrated by the complete lack of quality visuals to translate technical aspects of the stories she’s writing to her audience. Kristin hoped that by connecting with journalists who specialize in cybersecurity she would find visuals to meet her needs, however, she’s found this frustration is shared with journalists addressing a breadth of topics in the cybersecurity space.

Kristin might be fictional, but that hoodie thing is driving her crazy, okay? Won’t someone please think of the long-suffering tech journalists here?

The reality is that harried editors of tech publications rely on a few select repositories of clip art for article images. Moreover, when you go to one of those repositories and type in “cybersecurity” or “computer virus” or any one of a dozen terms related to people doing nefarious things to IT infrastructure, you receive the same two-dozen images of—you guessed it—shadowy figures in hoodies. Options are limited, and editors are short on time (and also beer, but that’s another story altogether).

That’s why tech publications keep using the same imagery over and over, and hopefully OpenIDEO will make these “fresh” images available to those repositories for reasonable terms. If you want to change how cybersecurity is visualized in the media, you don’t go after the people who are putting together cybersecurity training materials or whitepapers; and you certainly don’t go after journalists, who generally don’t get a say in what visuals accompany their articles. No, you try to put images in the hands of as many editors as possible.

Your long-suffering website editor just wants an image that other publications haven’t used a hundred times. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!

Visuals or no, cybersecurity remains a pressing issue, especially in the wake of massive breaches such as Equifax (where those kids in hoodies managed to abscond with personal data on roughly 145.5 million U.S. citizens). CEOs are increasingly concerned about a data breach undermining their business, and they’re willing to pay top dollar to cybersecurity professionals who can make IT infrastructure as safe as possible.

That’s a significant opportunity for tech professionals, who (with the right combination of skills and experience) can earn quite a bit in salary and other perks. Just make sure you have the right education and understand certain core concepts. Oh yeah, and no matter what you might see in the media, there’s no need to wear a hoodie as you sit in your darkened room, typing away.