Texas A&M: Texas A&M Division Of IT National Leader In Cybersecurity Awareness Programs

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and the Division of Information Technology (DivIT) at Texas A&M University is leading the nation with innovative online games that help students and employees avoid cyberattacks.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that on average, there have been more than 4,000 ransomware attacks every day since Jan. 1, 2016, a 300 percent increase since 2015. Malicious emails are up 600 percent due to the COVID-19 pandemic increasing digital dependency, and experts estimate a cyberattack takes place every 39 seconds. Such attacks can lead to private information being stolen and sold, identity theft, cyberstalking, distribution of prohibited content and more. Universities, in particular, have been increasingly targeted, especially by cyber extortionists.

DivIT works daily to prevent cyberattacks at Texas A&M, but also relies on users to recognize and report malicious emails and other attempts to breach university cybersecurity.

“Universities are big targets for cyber criminals,” said Chief Information Security Officer Michael Sardaryzadeh. “While the latest software and detection systems are important, the best defense against cyberattacks is ensuring campus members don’t fall for phishing attempts or social engineering.”

To ensure campus members are up-to-date on the latest criminal methods, DivIT has developed online games for users to play and, in the process, learn valuable skills to avoid cyberattacks. Several such games have been recognized nationally, including “Keep Tradition Secure,” which was named the top game in the country for employee training by the security awareness company Living Security. The gaming programs have also been featured by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Gamification is a great way to educate the community about everything from social media to email safety,” said Lacey Baze, DivIT director of Product Strategy and Communication. “The games allow us to keep the university safe in a fun, creative way.”

New games are unveiled each October. The latest game, the Aggie football-themed “Football Fever,” includes best practices in using Bluetooth and AirDrop, how ransomware works, tips to creating a proper password and more. All players will receive a coupon for free Blue Baker and will be entered to win one of four grand prizes from 12th Man Technology and DivIT including an Apple watch, laptop and Apple AirPods.

After the initial contest period each year, the games are offered as an educational resource for area school districts and anyone else who wants to play. Many of the past offerings are available at u.tamu.edu/games.