Cyberattack data has been reimagined into an artwork to show the impact these crimes have on real people.

Cyberattacks have become an almost everyday occurrence in Australia. In the past year, millions of people have had their private information targeted in high-profile hacks. 

It’s this increasingly common type of cybercrime that has inspired the latest artwork of contemporary artist Dr Baden Pailthorpe.

A senior lecturer at The Australian National University (ANU), Pailthorpe has developed a public art installation to help audiences better understand cybersecurity.

“Most of us have experienced some kind of hack. We’ve all been targeted at one point or another,” he says. “My work allows people to experience cybersecurity in a way they might not have thought about before.”

Dr Baden Pailthorpe has used real cyberattack data in his latest artwork. Photo: Jamie Kidston/ANU

Something you know, something you have, something you are incorporates passwords, cyberattack data and biometrics, and is split into three main sections.

Pailthorpe came up with the title while researching cybersecurity. Listening to podcasts about hacking gave him a sense of the language used in that space. 

“Each section is a form of security that a user can have, and I’ve referenced these to structure my artwork,” he says. “I love the lyrical quality and the repetition of these categories.”

Something you know cycles through thousands of common passwords, simulating a brute force attack. This type of attack is very common and involves hackers using trial and error to crack passwords and login credentials. For this section, Pailthorpe used a set of the 10,000 most common passwords – comprising of people’s names, birthdays and favourite sporting teams.

The second section, something you have, visualises real cyberattack data. Pailthorpe collaborated with the ANU cybersecurity team to depict actual attempts to pass the University’s firewall. 

“In the creative fields, we often explore the connections between different subject matters,” he says. “Part of our job is to make those connections tangible for people who don’t necessarily see them straightaway.”

Pailthorpe also sourced similar data from the Macquarie Government Canberra Data Centre, which houses government and citizen information from places including the Australian Taxation Office.

The something you are portion of the artwork is all about biometrics, especially hands—we use our fingerprints every day to access person devices. A series of skinless hands, animated with motion capture data, are used as a metaphor for cybersecurity and the biological networks within our own bodies. 

We use our hands both when hacking and being hacked. Photo: Dr Baden Pailthorpe

“I found that hands are an interesting biometric symbol because they are also the part of the body we use the most in accessing our personal devices and information, and in clicking on a malicious link when being hacked,” Pailthorpe says. 

The installation will be displayed on a large LED wall in the Kambri forecourt on the ANU campus as part of the Uncharted Territory festival. Pailthorpe hopes it will create a new way for people to understand cybersecurity.

“People can lose thousands upon thousands of dollars,” he says. “It can be quite devastating for victims.”  

Top image: Part of the Something you are, something you have, something you are installation. Photo: Dr Baden Pailthorpe

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