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Secret battles for control

Imagery showing how much everyday infrastructure could already be secretly compromised.

Photo of Phil O'Farrell
5 2

Written by

Sketch 1 (1,500 characters)

I'd like to visualise how much IoT devices and infrastructure may already be compromised in the event of a cold war turning hot. It's tricky to portray, as affected objects exist on so many different scales - e.g. a single image can't effectively show individual, comprised smart phones, cameras and smart TVs, while zooming out to hijacked national infrastructure... at least not without making the static image too complex to understand at a glance. I feel like resorting to animation at this stage would be cheating, however I have shown a before-after wipe of the city to hint at where this could be taken. // What I've uploaded is a quick Photoshop montage of royalty-free images and silhouettes that suggest hidden bad actors, stalking over a cityscape, secretly in control of: 1. Self driving cars 2. Traffic control systems 3. Chase banking group 4. IoT enabled air conditioning condensers 5. Train and plane navigation and... 6. In the distance, the electrical distribution network. I think it could be improved by swapping the styles of the montage - the cityscape would be easier to read in a more graphical form; the actors could portray more intent if they were full characters rather than silhouettes. Perhaps a leader (or state sponsor) could hold a countdown timer or money, to suggest imminent activation or pay-off for the team. I'd also like to show smaller objects, without resorting to the usual web or net tropes to demonstrate connectivity...

Sketch 2 (1,500 characters)

This one is a more lighthearted attempt to show what the war for control of connected devices means on the ground. While the consequences of thousands of smart fridges used in a bot-net may be serious, a single compromised fridge is more likely to be a nuisance. Showing only a single point of penetration allows more space to develop the idea of warring actors behind the scenes. Hopefully it's already clear, but I've tried to show two state sponsored actors battling for control of a botnet that includes this single Samsung fridge.

What have you learned through this sketching process? (1,000 characters)

I've learnt that urban landscapes are distracting! I had to drastically reduce saturation and contrast in the background images, just to get them to sit well enough in the first scene to highlight what I wanted to show. While good enough for a sketch, I think the whole style needs reworking to really get across what I'd like to in this image. Depending on what comes out of brainstorming, I expect to draw the more complex parts as vector graphics which might allow me to add the idea of multiple states attacking the same infrastructure, as suggested in Sketch 2.

Tell us more about you. (1,000 characters)

I'm a freelance designer, struggling to juggle work and a young family in a small town in Yorkshire, UK. My background is in architecture, but I like to vary my work, swapping every few months between buildings, graphic design, digital interfaces/VR and illustration (my website, although always out of date, probably gives a better idea). //

Why are you participating in this Challenge? (750 characters)

My job is creative, but my interests are very technical. I code a little, and know enough to appreciate how hard it is to fully secure a web interface. Please don't try to hack my site - I've no doubt you'll succeed. // Most importantly, I love where my various interests intersect, and am always looking for projects that satisfy more than one. This competition would be an opportunity to jump into back a number of graphical fields, while potentially making a real difference to cyber security. //

Website(s) - jump down to the graphic design and illustration sections. It's not a very profitable trait, but I constantly resist sticking to one particular style. I enjoy developing new techniques for each new job.

What is your experience with the field of cybersecurity?

  • I have minimal experience and/or knowledge in the cybersecurity field.

What best describes you?

  • I’m a professional visual creator freelancer.

How did you hear about this OpenIDEO Challenge?

  • In the news

Location: City

Hebden Bridge

Location: State / District

West Yorkshire

Location: Country

  • United Kingdom


Join the conversation:

Photo of Phil O'Farrell

Mmm, yes I'm also uncomfortable with the way the first message still evokes "BE AFRAID", although I guess a fear of global cyber conflict is fairly natural. //

Maybe it could still be a useful direction if they ghostly figures were given more personality. I'd like to try to explain what it's like on the aggressor's side of the conflict: Perhaps if the city was made more abstract and the characters fleshed out with a more realistic team dynamic. //

I know enough about troll farms to portray that, but honestly I don't really know what a foreign cyber-extortion or industrial-espionage team looks like on the ground. Could anyone post links to articles or debriefings so we can work out how to draw them? //

There's one aspect of the image I genuinely like, and that's the idea of a childlike figure holding a plane or playing with infrastructure as if it's a game in their bedroom. Maybe that won't sit well within the attacker's environment though - I may be introducing too many moves to fit into a static image. //

I'm glad you liked the second image. I'll be honest - it was a very quick photomontage sketch. I'd love to work into that idea to make it clearer still. Any particular styles you'd recommend using?

Photo of Jen Zariat

I think what i liked about it was the quick-and-dirty cut-paste style. It made it funnier. I know that's probably not what you want to hear after clearly spending so much more work on the first sketch... :/

Photo of Dima Boulad

Interesting point Jen Zariat , you would have chosen the quick and dirty vut and paste technique for the first sketch as well? What do you think Phil O'Farrell ?

Photo of Jen Zariat

I actually really love the illustration style in the first image, it's just that there's so much going on i can't immediately determine where my focal point should be. The second one, though "quick and dirty" is effective to my eyes, especially when looking for quick symbols i can interpret easily. Both are good for different reasons!

Photo of Phil O'Farrell

"there's so much going on i can't immediately determine where my focal point should be"
I totally agree. The style would work better on a simpler scene.

The Monty Python (Gilliam) style does work, but might need to be redrawn to avoid copyright issues, though it may fall under "fair use: parody"