The idea of welcoming a robber into one’s home is obviously absurd, but craft it into a funny 30-second video public service announcement about phishing and you have yourself a winner.

A group of UNC-Chapel Hill journalism students did just that to take first place in an ITS cybersecurity contest for the best video PSA for promoting awareness of phishing attempts on campus.

The first-place winners with their professor
The first-place winners with their professor

The ITS Information Security Office partnered with a School of Media and Journalism class to hold this cybersecurity contest, now offered for three consecutive years as part of October’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month. The task was to develop a 30-second public service announcement (PSA) to highlight the dangers of falling victim to phishing scams.

Three teams within Ken Medlin’s Video Communication for Public Relations and Marketing class produced video PSAs for the contest.

Students created quality videos

“I really was blown away by the quality of all three videos,” Medlin said. “I thought the collaboration and the hands-on experience that these kids got was tremendous.”

headshot of Tim Cline
Tim Cline

Contest organizers Tim Cline and Charlie Mewshaw, who are both ITS information security specialists, also were impressed by the students’ submissions.

“The quality of this stuff blew my mind,” Cline said. “The students were great to work with.”

Tough task: phishing in 30 seconds

“Phishing,” Medlin said, “is a pretty difficult subject to deal with and to try to describe what that is in 30 seconds and also do it in a way that’s interesting for the viewer and connects with the viewer — that’s a particularly challenging order.”

The creators of this humorous and impactful video were producer Ellie Teller, videographer Rowan Gallagher, editor Samuel Shepard, director Micah Stubbs and writer Jacob Sawyer.

“We wanted to make it understandable to everyone, and we also knew that our target audience was students and something humorous would stick with them more,” said Teller, a senior who is majoring in communications and journalism.

While the team members wanted to make the video comical, Shepard said, they also “needed to focus on the seriousness of phishing and how it can deeply affect people who accidentally click on a phished email.” Shepard is a junior majoring in journalism.

Through the cybersecurity contest, the students also learned that collaboration was critical.

Jacob Sawyer as a phisher in the video
Jacob Sawyer as a phisher in the video PSA

“I think this project was successful because we all really helped each other with the different roles,” said Sawyer, a journalism major who wrote the script and portrayed the thief/phisher in the video PSA. “We all worked really well together. Everybody was very willing to contribute to whatever needed to be done.”

Taking second place in the contest was a video showing a cash-strapped, ramen-eating college student contemplating the big bucks she could collect if she clicked on a suspicious email enticing her to take a survey. But common sense prevails. The student reports the email, which was a phishing attempt to steal her information, to ITS via phish@unc.edu.

The third-place video plays it more straightforward by sharing statistics about the prevalence of phishing attempts on campus, warning that these phishers seek personal information, and providing a resource for additional information.

Michael Williams of the Information Security Office, Kim Vassiliadis of ITS Digital Services and Kathleen Harrington of the School of Media and Journalism served as contest judges.

Stay informed and report phishing

ITS encourages students, faculty and staff to visit phish.unc.edu often to stay informed on the latest phishing attempts on campus. When in doubt and before clicking on links, users can call 919-962-HELP to ask if a message is legitimate. Members of the campus community who suspect they have received a phishing attempt are asked to forward those phishing messages as an attachment to phish@unc.edu.

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