Collaborative communication at its best: Engaging experts from across the community to spread the cyber word
Published: 5 May 2023, 8:54 a.m.
In creating a body of knowledge that will meet the needs of a growing and diverse cyber security community, CyBOK has purposefully set out to involve the people it serves in its entire process. Since it began in 2017, more than 115 experts from across the world have contributed their expertise to the platform, which includes written chapters, as well as podcasts, webinars, and even graphic novels and children’s books. As Executive Board member and Editor Professor Steve Schneider explains, clear and engaging communication is key.
Why do you think CyBOK is of such value to so many people?
At the heart of CyBOK are the Knowledge Areas, currently 21 chapters written by world-leading experts, which form the body of cyber knowledge that professionals, educators, academics and students find of immense value. These chapters encapsulate a rich level of understanding with pointers and references for further reading for those who wish to delve further into any particular area. Each chapter isn’t intended to capture the entirety of a subject, it’s more about bringing the whole together in one neat overview. In doing so, the chapters fill a gap in the sector because they are neither academic nor book length, instead they are comprehensive in a more digestible way.
You were the editor of Kenneth Paterson’s KA on Applied Cryptography and David Basin’s KA on Formal Methods. How did you develop those chapters?
We realised we needed to provide a coverage of these subject areas after we received some feedback on the original chapters in CyBOK 1.0. We had covered the technical side of cryptography, after which people requested something more practical, hence Applied Cryptography followed as one of the chapters in CyBOK 1.1. Similarly with Formal Methods, the feedback we received alerted us to the need to bring together within one chapter the particular mathematical approach to developing and reasoning about computer systems and security. Hence Formal Methods was covered as a subject in its own right in CyBOK 1.1.
It was an enormous privilege to work with Kenny and David as people who are at the absolute top of their fields. Once they agreed to contribute, we worked through some initial ideas, organised reviewers to assess the initial plans, then left Kenny and David to work on the content itself. We had some enjoyable discussions once the chapters were ready for review that prompted us to take a step back and consider how we’re explaining things.
It can take anywhere between six and 12 months to develop a chapter. Once the chapters are technically complete, the Board considers any potential connections and overlaps with other Knowledge Areas, so that the whole project works as an entire unit.
You describe the editorial process as a craft. Can you explain how this applies and the role that each person involved plays?
Ultimately, we all want to put something out that each author is happy with and that meets the cyber community’s needs. As an editor, it’s my responsibility to help steer the direction for each chapter and see how it fits within CyBOK as a whole. My preferred way of doing things is by having robust discussions with each author so that we can agree the best approach.
The project board comprises people who have strong reputations in their own fields, which means that there is mutual respect and interest among everyone involved. That collegiality is important, it means we each understand our roles and contributions. It’s very much a collaboration in that sense.
Once the chapters are ready, we make them public to the CyBOK community and they remain live and open for feedback. Typically, people point us to further topics we may have missed. We go through detailed discussions of every single comment and consider how we can respond. We had some very good suggestions for these particular chapters, which helped us to improve them. We didn’t have room to incorporate all of the submitted ideas, but that’s part of the process, keeping the final chapters to a reasonable length and keeping some ideas in reserve to explore later.
It sounds like a very democratic process. Has it been deliberately structured in that way?
Yes, we want to give the community the opportunity to make proposals and fresh suggestions, to say what they think should be included and to help us ensure the content remains fresh and relevant. As a board, we evaluate the suggestions at the end of every month. It might be that we spot something new that ought to be included, or an idea for a new chapter emerges. We have plans to introduce a longer term reviewing process where we will proactively look at the themes within the Knowledge Areas, and review them in the light of how the field has developed.
CyBOK is used by people from multiple professions and sectors, and across the ages. How has the project managed to expand CyBOK’s reach so widely?
We recognise that different audiences respond to information in different ways. Each of the chapters are accompanied by a webinar, with slides that people can download to use in their own way. We also produce podcasts, so that people can hear the KA authors reflect on
their work. Not only does that make the information more accessible, it’s a great opportunity to hear the voices of the people who have invested their energy and expertise in these areas.
There are many case studies and practical educational materials that have been developed in support of CyBOK. We even have two toddler books that have been developed with educational psychologists, introducing some of the core concepts for the youngest of consumers. That has a dual purpose because it means that parents and guardians learn through the process of trying to explain things to children. There is also a graphic novel and another graphic story that has been commissioned, which we hope will appeal to younger audiences or simply anyone interested in receiving the information in a more visual manner. All these ideas come from the community, it’s not the project board dictating what we do next. It’s the community that suggests how to develop CyBOK.
We also host regular showcases that attract a wider audience. It’s important that we engage the professional community as much as a general audience – students, the general public and academics – to demonstrate what’s coming up in the future as well as all that we’ve achieved to date. The social aspect really comes alive at these events as well – CyBOK is as much about connecting with like-minded people, and growing our community is all part of the projects’ aspirations.
Professor Steve Schneider is on the Executive Board for CyBOK. He is Director of Surrey Centre for Cyber Security and Head of Department of Computer Science at the University of Surrey