NOVEMBER 9, 2022 — The cultural icon Smokey Bear, with his yellow hat and wildfire prevention tagline, has been familiar to Americans for decades. Likewise, McGruff the Crime Dog, who encouraged the public to “Take a bite out of crime.” Today, younger generations have the Safetypup to help children learn about safety issues from law enforcement.
Each of these famous characters has helped encourage a culture of security. But what about a culture of cybersecurity?
Since cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, the UTSA Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS) has launched Alan CyBear™, a new mascot to promote a more secure nation through cybersecurity awareness, prevention and defensive efforts.
“Creating a culture of cybersecurity is critical to the nation’s long-term security,” said Greg White, director of the CIAS. “Whether in kindergarten or a senior citizen, we are all interacting with cell phones and other Internet-connected devices wherever we go. That’s why we are so excited to bring Alan CyBear to communities nationwide, teaching and encouraging everyone to be responsible at home, work and school when interacting with technology.”
Before COVID, according to Pew Research, more than one-third of parents with a child under 12 say their child began interacting with a smartphone before the age of five. Since COVID, use of social media and overall screen time increased among children, Pew Research shows.
“Children younger than five years old already have access to their parent’s phones, and many of us now live in smart homes,” added White. “Our lives are more connected and online than ever before. It’s our goal for Alan CyBear to engage every community about the need to adopt good cybersecurity practices.”
Beginning with each community’s youngest citizens, Alan CyBear brings coloring pages and activities, stickers, posters and games to introduce cybersecurity terminology, defense strategies and cybersecurity principles to children in grades K-12. And just as Smokey Bear often made friends with Woodsy Owl and others, Alan CyBear is bringing his entire family into these kid’s activities. Alan’s wife, son, daughter and older parents each aid Alan’s storytelling.
A culture of cybersecurity is about more than awareness. It encourages the public to adopt simple practices such as two-factor authentication, recognition of phishing and social engineering attacks, and investments in employee and student training within the workplace and school environments.
“The threat of bad actors trolling on the Internet, lurking in every room on our PCs and on our cell phones, is the most prevalent and pervasive threat of this decade,” said Ret. General Guy Walsh, executive director of the National Security Collaboration Center. “Our nation longs for those next champions, like Smokey Bear.”
Recently, Alan CyBear made his first public appearance to help promote a bi-partisan cybersecurity law as part of Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Alan CyBear joined U.S. Senator John Cornyn who visited UTSA to speak about the National Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium Act. Introduced by Cornyn and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the act encourages the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to work with the CIAS at UTSA and four other universities to develop cybersecurity courses at no cost to professionals in private industry, as well as state and local government organizations, and tribal and territorial governments (SLTTs).
“Watching Alan CyBear come to life at UTSA’s National Security Collaboration Center was awesome,” said Walsh, in reaction to Alan CyBear participating in Senator Cornyn’s visit. “The smiles and the joy factor in the room went up 500 percent. Having the CyBear family appear on every computer screen and TV screen in America to teach us about cybersecurity—life changing.”
Alan CyBear can also help provide insights into growing cyber trends and how businesses can prevent or mitigate these cyber incidents.
“Cyberattacks on states and communities have been growing in number, especially ransomware attacks,” said White. “A whole-community approach needs to be taken by communities to protect citizens across sectors. Simply backing up an organization’s data or regular phishing training can have a large, positive impact on defending against this growing issue. Alan CyBear can help drive that message home.”
Whether teaching the future workforce about the importance of back-ups and updating the operating system, or engaging parents and businesses about cybersecurity policies and best practices, Alan CyBear is ready to share his adventures and cybersecurity knowledge online now.
— Julina Macy
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