AISA Gets Muddy at Splendour in the Grass - by Dr Suelette Dreyfus

AISA members jumped into the now famous mud at Australia’s largest music festival, Splendour in the Grass, to offer cyber security ‘tune-ups’ on phones and other devices for free. Celebrating cyber security in the balloon-filled Science Tent, eight AISA volunteers from three states (QLD, NSW and VIC) helped more than 300 young Australians improve their personal cybersecurity.

Reaching young people with messages about cybersecurity is difficult: many don't understand the importance and consider the inconvenience to be not worth the hassle. Most of the nearly 50,000 people who attend Splendour annually are under the age of 26, so AISA decided this was the perfect setting to do high-impact outreach to young people.

We had two goals: to build cyber security and e-safety awareness while also making sure that, whenever possible, the Splendour-goers left the tent with their devices being more secure than when they walked in.

Over three days, the volunteers ran a drop-in clinic each day for Splendour festival-goers. We got them to pull out their phones, tablets and laptops, and we showed them how to patch a device, install 2fa, use a password manager and enable full disk encryption among other things.

All that dancing to the best Australian and international music acts makes a person hungry, so AISA handed out delicious fresh doughnuts and muffins with each tune-up and with privacy camera covers for devices.

The AISA volunteer team was as diverse as our audience and included university students, professionals from the IT industry, a former science teacher and a cross-country motorcycle racer. We were particularly effective at reaching young females – in part because we designed the volunteer team with a female to male ratio of 1:1.

AISA is a charitable organisation and must fulfil charitable activities as part of its reason for existing. Now that lockdowns are a thing of the past, we want to grow public outreach and education activities. Splendour was an experiment – a first big step to bring back not just our giving to the Australian public but also to help re-build our own sense of community within the AISA membership.

Volunteers Cath Thompson, Josh Burke, Shauna McCormack, Robin Doherty and Dale Hewitson battled torrential rain, a cancelled first day of acts due to the weather, flooded tent areas and pathways of mud. But they also talked about the terrific sense of fun and liveliness they felt from talking to curious young Australians buzzing in and out of our ‘cyber tune up stations’ in the Science Tent.

AISA volunteers Shelly Mills, Chris Gatford and Suelette Dreyfus also did other outreach at the event on a panel designed to encourage young Australians to consider a career in information security or privacy. The event  - ‘Hack like the movies!’ – was packed out with standing room only.

The experiment was such a success that AISA plans to explore the possibility of repeating and perhaps growing the activity in 2023.