Attention Please: It’s a Scary World Out There!


“We are attacked over a million times a day.” That’s the attack rate according to the IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. That’s a lot, in my book. When I heard him say that, it got my attention, and I suspect it got yours, too.

When I teach Learning Tree’s System and Network Security Introduction, I try to begin with an attention-grabbing quote or statistic. It helps the participants realize that this is serious business. It turns out that it’s good instructional design, too.

Educational psychologist, Robert Gagné, described nine “events of instruction” in his 1955 book, The Conditions of Learning. The first of these conditions (called events) is “Gain Attention.” I don’t think he meant just to blow a whistle or stand up and say, “hello.” The idea is to motivate learning. There are lots of ways to do that. I’ve used a few different ones when teaching. Sometimes, I read a list of alarming facts such as the one at the top of this post. Other times, I’ve combined attention-getting information with a sort of ice-breaker activity. Another approach I’ve used is to ask participants to look for the alarming information by searching the web.

Here are some example questions to illustrate the latter:

  • What is the total direct and indirect cost of a lost laptop? __________
  • What is the average annual cost of reported cybercrime breaches to an individual company worldwide? ______________
  • What does it cost, per hour, for an attacker to wage a distributed denial-of-service attack on a victim? ____________

I’ll let you participate in the exercise as a course participant might. You can search for the answers using your favorite search engine. In real life, different participants will discover different results for questions such as these. That leads to a discussion about what might impact those different results. [Some factors are different companies surveyed, different wording of questions, job classification of respondents, and so forth.]

It should come as no surprise, that I find the answers to questions such as I’ve asked here to be motivating when it comes to learning about cyber security. I suspect, though, that some of you may find other statistics or even something else an equal or greater motivator. So my first question for you, this time is, “what motivates you to learn more about cyber security?”

My second question is, “what other statistics about cyber security do you find alarming?” Do the costs associated with identity theft alarm you, or maybe it’s that bad guys sell identities cheaply. Please answer these questions in the comments below. I’ll select my favorites from those submitted.

To your safe computing,
John McDermott

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