What images and color(s) represent the word ‘cybersecurity’?

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11/19/2019

Some studies have found that the human brain actually processes words by recognizing each word heard through the ears and seen with the eyes as an individual picture. I know when I’m listening to a podcast or lecture, the radio, reading something, etc. and I hear or see a word that is delightful to me, my mind engages, blooming a series of images that represent that word. In other words, I see pictures in my mind related to what I heard or saw.

Let’s say, for example, you just heard the word ‘cybersecurity.” What images popped into your mind? For me, it’s images of hooded people in basements crouched over a laptop, padlocks, computers with data flying out of it as if it’s being stolen, etc. 

Believe it or not, how people “see” the word cybersecurity is a big deal, as images can conjure up false realities of what it actually is and encompasses. And, with digital being such a major part of our lives, pictures/images provide the visual communication we are accustomed to.

The Daylight Security Research Lab, part of the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity at U.C. Berkeley, compiled a dataset of the most common cybersecurity-related images used on the Internet during a two-year period of Google Image Search results for 28 terms related to privacy and cyber security. Every week for two years, the research team entered terms, such as cybersecurity, camera surveillance, camera privacy and more (you can see all 28 here) into a custom Google Search Engine (Google CSE). For each term searched, 100 images were scraped using a script, resulting in three sets of search terms each aimed at the following: 

  • Set 1: general technologies, technical themes or topics;
  • Set 2: representations of abstract ideas or practices; and
  • Set 3: Dave Eggar’s book, “The Circle,” which at the time of the study was a best-seller and represented topics of interest related to this study. 

Though the Berkeley researchers are continuing to analyze the seven gigabytes of collected imagery data, preliminary analyzations found that the most common colors used in cybersecurity imagery online are blue, grey, black and red, while padlocks and abstract network diagrams are the most common images. 

In my opinion, fear should not be the driver that encourages people to take action to stay safe. Yet, this research shows that the majority of images and colors related to cybersecurity do just that. Dark colors, in this case, blue, grey and black, are frequently associated with evil, mystery and fear. Red is often associated with danger. Just these four colors alone can communicate and evoke fear, and when used along with padlocks and images of computer networks, the message is clear: cybersecurity = fear. 

People should know the truth about cybersecurity —in words and in pictures — so that they can make educated decisions on how to best protect themselves, not fear mongered into it. Therefore, it’s important to create and use realistic imagery and pictures when it comes to discussing and presenting cybersecurity online. 

Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?