UNSW Canberra PhD candidate wins international art prize

8.11.19

UNSW Canberra PhD candidate Ivana Troselj has won an international competition for her artwork depicting cyber threats.

The Cybersecurity Visuals Challenge, held by the Hewlett Foundation and OpenIDEO, aimed to do away with the stereotypical images of hackers in hoodies that are synonymous with the media’s coverage of cyber issues.

The result is a new library of cyber-related images that can be freely used by news organisations.

Ivana was one of five winners from across the globe to have her work included in the collection and receive a prize of $7500 USD.

Inspired by the classic gothic fairy tale, she has created a series of illustrations inspired by some of the key issues in cyber security today.

“The fairy tale is the ultimate cautionary lesson – if you go down to the woods today, what might you find?” Ivana said.

“It features small children coming to all sorts of terrible endings while surrounded in a forest by supernatural monsters.

“There’s one called The Lowest Hanging Fruit, which features a gigantic anglerfish hovering above a forest, dangling a little piece of email, enticing a small child to pick the email as if it were fruit dangling from the bottom of the trees.

 

“There’s another one [top image] in which I illustrate a serial about a cuckoo, which is laying an egg in a nest in the forest. That particular tale is an allegory for disinformation and what might happen when we accept and nurture ideas which are toxic.”

Ivana, who also studied a degree in fine arts, said visuals could be an effective means to engage a wider audience in complex topics.

“Cyber security is something which is affecting everybody,” Ivana said.

“We have billions of dollars’ worth of losses every year and people are becoming increasingly interested in what sort of things they can do to protect themselves. It’s content that’s difficult for a lot of people to approach, so visuals are one way to bring visuals into that conversation.”

The artistic inspiration came from Edward Gorey’s Gashleycrumb Tinies, a satirical alphabet depicting the demise of 26 children.

Some years ago, renowned cryptographer Bruce Schneier proposed a cyber security version of these children, which sparked the idea for the series.

Ivana’s use of black ink and water colours are a tribute to Gorey’s style.

The competition attracted 165 entrants from across the globe, and the other winners were selected from the United States, Mexico and India.

Ivana’s lessons are clear to a general audience, but as her PhD supervisor Dr Gavin Mount explains, the illustrations provide an extra level of detail to those in the know.

“She’s got a nice balance between recognisable iconic images from fairy tales, but she’s also tapping into another stream of our thinking about cyber,” Dr Mount said.

“The intelligence community has names for different types of hackers coming from different countries. From Iran, they call them kittens, hackers from Russia are bears and hackers that are coming from China are characterised as pandas, you’ll notice that in these stories she is leveraging on that. It’s very clever of her to actually tap into the language and the lexicon of the intelligence community - she brings them to life.”

 

The competition has already received worldwide publicity, including an article in the Washington Post, and Ms Troselj hopes it is just the beginning of a larger library of visuals that can support the coverage of cyber issues in the media.

Her PhD research topic – the weaponisation of e-commerce – looks at the way in which state actors are employing online business tools and practices to advance their pursuit of information warfare. 

Ms Troselj said humanities research has a lot to offer the field of cyber security, and that there is a group of researchers at UNSW Canberra who are dedicated to the topic of information warfare.

“I’d like to bring attention to our work and to raise the visibility of the work that people do in this domain generally by attaching it to some really engaging visuals,” she said.

Ivana’s winning portfolio can be viewed here.

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