Although almost everyone has heard of data breaches and identity theft, much of the public does not understand how these events occur or appreciate how much cybercriminals could affect their personal lives and our critical infrastructure. This lack of knowledge and awareness often leads individuals to take unnecessary risks in personal activities. In 2019, the San Antonio Life Members Affinity Group (LMAG) received a US$39,300 grant from the IEEE Foundation to develop an exhibit to promote public understanding of cybersecurity concepts and needs.

To achieve these goals, the LMAG teamed up with the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology, a relatively new museum that has holdings in computers, communications, and cryptography. LMAG members worked with museum staff to define a series of exhibits tracing the history of secure messaging from historical times to the present. These exhibits are based on artifacts already held by the museum such as an Enigma machine as well as newly obtained items including an ATM donated by a local bank and racks of servers and firewalls.

On most Saturdays and many weekdays throughout 2019, up to 12 LM volunteers were at the museum warehouse, cutting plywood, assembling and painting display cases, building video display stands, and developing videos explaining the artifacts. These volunteers were often joined by IEEE Student Branch members, museum staff, and members of the San Antonio cybersecurity community.

Students from Brentwood Middle School participate during a demonstration of the SOC Theater at the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology. / Photo: KSAT12-TV

The centerpiece of the exhibits is the SOC Theater, a simulated security operations center. The theater includes a video wall display with a computer that can show informational videos on the types of cyberthreats as well as simulated cyberattacks. Instead of normal theater seating, visitors sit in front of display screens connected to Raspberry Pi computers simulating operators’ stations in a security operations center. The SOC Theater has been in operation for several months; it has proven to be very popular with visitors and has been featured on local TV news programs.

Other exhibits include a demonstration of secure voice communication using a pair of 1970’s vintage voice scrambler units. Two visitors can talk over handsets while others hear scrambled audio from speakers and a video monitor explains speech encryption. The Internet and infrastructure operations are explained with a series of videos that can be selected on a touch-screen kiosk and played on a large-screen display.  A final exhibit discusses careers in cybersecurity with video presentations of opportunities, preparation needed, and interviews with cybersecurity professionals.

Although coronavirus restrictions have affected some of the exhibit installations and interrupted the stream of visitors to the museum, the exhibit is meeting its goals. More than 10,000 visitors and more than 100 school groups will come through the museum this year and almost all will see the exhibits, leaving with a better appreciation of cybersecurity concepts and needs. In addition, the many hours that volunteers worked together on a common goal helped to strengthen the San Antonio LMAG.

A group of Life Member volunteers pose for a photo while raising large TV screens to form a video wall in
the simulated Security Operations Center. / Photo: Joe Jankowski