One of the most pressing challenges facing cybersecurity experts today is a lack of cultural competence.
We are trying to improve:
We are using a non-U.S. / Western context in which to engage with these ideas. We use these contexts in a reflexive and reflective manner as well, as a means of improving an individual’s understanding and awareness of their own blind spots (whether personal / local / international).
When dealing with non-Western nation-state threat actors. On a base level, there is a need to expand our linguistic, historical, and cultural understanding of regions with which cybersecurity professionals frequently interact but have little knowledge of. It is perhaps more important still for experts to be consistently aware of the cultural “blind spots” they may have for those regions. The goal, then, is not to merely learn a few important facts about another nation and move on, but to be able to recognize that there is far more nuance and complexity to the nation in question than the simplistic narratives we often adopt for foreign countries. In other words, by gaining a base level of competency in an unfamiliar culture, we hope students will ultimately be able to recognize how much they do not yet know. Indeed, we believe the best defense against cultural blind spots is lifelong learning.
Making assumptions about the identity of particular actors (e.g., based on nationality, association, language) in cyberspace can result in substantial mistakes when attempting to predict, identify and understand threats. Beyond the ethical advantages, a greater degree of cultural and linguistic competency will ideally result in better policy decisions and opportunities for collaboration. Policy based on improper assumptions (ie, mistakenly attributing cybercrime to the wrong national group, assuming an act of cybercrime (an APT?) is the work of a particular government rather than private actors, or even misunderstanding a group’s motivations) may not be able to effectively address the underlying problem or curb future threats. We hope that the CLCS program may act as a critical first step toward solving the problems discussed above.
Our project was initiated thanks to funding from the NCAE-C Cyber Curriculum and Research 2020 Program (the project's funded time period is 2020-2022). The goal of this initial effort is to research optimal methods for improving the cultural and linguistic competency of cybersecurity experts through an intensive (short-term) educational context.
For this research program we created a series of modules centered in Russian linguistic, cultural, and historical contexts. We completed the first draft of these modules in the summer of 2021 and held the initial pilot in the fall of 2021. The next step for this project included a round of revisions and expansion of the modules, followed by three more pilots with varying student populations. One of these pilots was held in the spring of 2022, and the final two in the summer of 2022. A follow up needs analysis and general assessment were conducted immediately afterwards.
Upon completion of the pilots, we will be publishing our research findings as well as a guidebook on the development process to aid in the creation of similar projects.
After the completion of the Russian project and the guidebook, we hope to develop similar modules for other critical languages (e.g., Korean, Persian).
In order to address the lack of cultural competency in the field of cybersecurity and the need for an increased cybersecurity workforce, the UW Language Learning Center was awarded a unique GenCyber grant. (GenCyber is a federally funded program that primarily supports summer camps for K-12 students to learn cybersecurity.) Our program was the first to be held completely in a non-English target language (Portuguese) for heritage learners.
We were awarded a GenCyber grant for Korean to be offered in 2023.
A major component of the Portuguese GenCyber program was to familiarize K-12 heritage learners with the career possibilities in the field of Cybersecurity, while emphasizing the advantages of having multicultural and multilingual competency.
This GenCyber program proposal was inspired by previously held STEM-based STARTALK summer camps for Russian language heritage students. We also received generous support from the UW Center for Information Assurance and Prof. Marc Dupuis at UW Bothell who had offered GenCyber camps in the past.
We received a grant from the Washington State OSPI OER division to create a week-long series of lessons on the topic of Cybersecurity for ASL classrooms. The lessons teach students key vocabulary and concepts, practical skills (e.g., how to more safely use the internet), and career opportunities. Each lesson includes video of the vocabulary, short lectures. The series concludes with an interview with a fluent ASL signer who works in the field. This grant is a collaborative project between the UW Language Learning Center (and the CLCS Project) with the Washington Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth.
We believe that there are tremendous opportunities for university students who are currently studying a foreign language or languages or particular regions of the world to develop skills in cybersecurity along the way. Currently, we are exploring different ways to structure such a program (courses, certificates, a minor or perhaps a major) as we believe there are several advantages to combining these two mutually beneficial courses of study. First, it will increase the pool of cybersecurity professionals who will have that cultural and linguistic competency that has thus far been lacking in the field. Further, it will provide an engaging and unique pedagogical and linguistic domain to learn more advanced language and area studies content. This combined knowledge uniquely positions them within the pool of cybersecurity professionals as they will bring additional critical thinking and cultural and linguistic competence to the field.
This project is a joint effort between the UW Language Learning Center, the UW Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity and the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.