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Professor educates children about mobile device security in new book

Feb 26, 2024

An illustration in Lorie in Cybersecurity Wonderland: The Fun of Camping & Mobile Security depicting a type of cybera... An illustration in “Lorie in Cybersecurity Wonderland: The Fun of Camping & Mobile Security” depicting a type of cyberattack. Illustration by Yuan Lu

A new children’s book by an assistant professor in the Indiana University Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering is aiding the school’s educational outreach efforts about cybersecurity.

Xiaojing Liao, who teaches computer science courses and researches cybercrime, co-authored “Lorie in Cybersecurity Wonderland: The Fun of Camping & Mobile Security.” The book — her first —is geared toward children in kindergarten through sixth grade and was inspired by her daughter Lorie’s question about her research while they were reading a book about women in science.

Xiaojing Liao. Photo courtesy of the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering Xiaojing Liao. Photo courtesy of the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering“I envision this book as a cornerstone for introducing mobile security concepts to young learners in a relatable way,” Liao said.

She said the book can be a tool for educators and caregivers to have early discussions about digital safety and responsible technology use. That’s important, Liao said, because mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are used increasingly by children, and the benefits they offer also come with risks. Liao said that research by Javelin Strategy & Research showed that in 1 in 50 children fell victim to identity theft in 2021, and children’s mobile devices are a primary conduit for the leaking of their personal information.

Joshua Streiff, who is in charge of Luddy’s precollege summer camps and precollege educational outreach activities, said concepts from Liao’s book were incorporated into a summer cyber camp that Luddy did in collaboration with Bloomington-based Wonderlab.

“We had a great outdoor relay game last summer based on Xiaojing’s curriculum, where kids got to learn about mobile app security and play the part of hackers while running around Woodlawn Field,” he said.

Idea to publication

With her daughter’s question providing inspiration, Liao wondered how she could translate her work in a way that would captivate and educate young minds, explaining why they need to be careful and how to be safe. Upon reviewing children’s literature, Liao said she noticed a gap in child-friendly resources on the topic of mobile security.

At a cybersecurity conference in fall 2022, Liao met Georgia Tyner, who founded a children’s media publishing company that focuses on STEM and health and wellness books. Tyner encouraged Liao to pursue her book idea, and they eventually collaborated as co-authors. Liao’s friend Yuan Lu illustrated the story.

The project took about a year, Liao said, and the initial challenge was how to tell the story so the target audience would understand it. A camping trip in a mobile digital wonderland full of app-trees and app-rocks was chosen, and animals — a fox, chameleon, rabbit and squirrel — represent four types of cyberattacks. For example, Lorie goes rock hunting, looking for app-rocks. As she plays with one app-rock, it turns into a chameleon that starts spreading rumors. The book explains to the reader that the solution is to go to the app store and report the problem and explain what happened so the app can be fixed.

“The primary message I hope this book conveys is the importance of understanding and addressing the cybersecurity risks associated with mobile devices, particularly for young children,” Liao said. “By raising awareness about these risks and providing age-appropriate information and guidance, we aim to empower children to use mobile technology safely and responsibly.

“Additionally, I hope to inspire educators, parents, caregivers and policymakers to prioritize cybersecurity education for children and to develop resources that effectively teach them how to navigate the digital world securely.”

In the book, a fox, chameleon, rabbit and squirrel represent four types of cyberattacks. Illustration by Yuan Lu In the book, a fox, chameleon, rabbit and squirrel represent four types of cyberattacks. Illustration by Yuan Lu

The preprint version of the book came out in October 2023, and Amazon started selling it in December.

Liao said she is thinking about another children’s book project that focuses on artificial intelligence security.

Educational efforts

Luddy’s educational outreach activities target IU students and faculty and the greater community, including potential cyberSTEM students, Streiff said. The goal is to create a lifelong cybersecurity learning experience for people living in an increasingly digital world.

Luddy has focused mostly on high school and middle school students with its precollege programming, but it is looking to expand its outreach to elementary students, Streiff said.

“The younger you can appeal to students through curriculum, you can get them engaged in STEM overall and specifically cybersecurity, and they’ll be more likely to pick it up later on,” Streiff said.

Liao approached Streiff about her book project in early 2023 when he was working on a grant about cybersecurity education. Streiff said he immediately thought about how to implement the book in the classroom or clubs or group activities.

Even before the book was published, Liao and Streiff applied concepts from the book to the summer camp with Wonderlab. That first involved a talk about safe and unsafe uses of mobile technology and how to keep your information private. A follow-up activity had children running between several stations that simulated cybersecurity problems such as credential theft and denial of services; it also gave kids the opportunity to think about the problems and offer redesign solutions.

Streiff said he hopes Liao’s book can be used by local educators and activity centers in the future.

“I’m interested in using it in elementary schools because I believe it makes for a safer world and community when these kids are older and on the internet and using devices and need basic skills and concepts to protect themselves and the people around them,” he said. “This book is a great teaching tool and gateway into that.”


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Kirk Johannesen

Communications Consultant, Strategic Communications

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