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Whack a hacker before they sink your security

Published on Thursday, March 23, 2017

By: Ruth Cummins

Published in News Stories on March 23, 2017

It's easy, and it's not: Playing Whack-A-Mole by popping on the head pretend moles that peep out of their holes, with the bobbing moles gaining momentum to make it harder for the player to keep up.

Can you reinvent that arcade game to put the hammer on threats to online security?

That's what UMMC's Division of Information Systems is doing. Their mole-inspired Whack-A-Hack lets users chase a hacker online, answer internet security questions for bonus points, and possibly earn a spot on a DIS online leaderboard. It's part of the ongoing information security awareness plan designed by DIS.

The initiative includes a three-week competition to ferret out the top five Whack-A-Hack scorers UMMC-wide. The online arcade, which went live on the UMMC intranet March 22, also will include more light-hearted games and trivia.

“We wanted to put a fun twist on information security so our users can enjoy learning about it. We wanted to do something interactive,” said Lisa Lott, IT communications analyst with DIS.  “With information security, there are scary things out there, like hackers and viruses. But, there are proactive actions that employees can take to keep that from happening.”

A DIS innovation group “kicked around a few ideas about what sort of game we could wrap information security content around,” said Adrian Castillo, a DIS interactive digital developer, who with senior web software developer Venu Peddireddy created Whack-A-Hack. “We wanted to make it more fun, and to help teach people that way.”

Adrian Castillo, left, a DIS interactive digital developer, and senior web software developer Venu Peddireddy created Whack-A-Hack,
Adrian Castillo, left, a DIS interactive digital developer, and senior web software developer Venu Peddireddy created Whack-A-Hack,

Here's how to play: Call up the DIS arcade page via a link located on their site. Select the Whack-A-Hack game. The hack will pop up, and users click with their mouse to whack him. “The more you catch him, the more points you get,” Lott said. “He pops up faster and faster in each round.”

Between each of the five rounds, players answer a trivia question and get bonus points for a correct answer. They can find themselves on the Top 10 leaderboard of high scorers so far, updated in real time.

DIS used a game engine that allows users to place objects on the screen and give them commands to act a certain way, Castillo said. “It runs on a browser. You don't need a special computer,” he said. “You use your mouse to click on the hackers as they pop up on the screen. The hackers are the ones trying to penetrate the firewall. Your job is to catch them as quickly as you can.”

If you answer correctly the information security question between rounds, you'll double your points earned in the next round, Castillo said.


The hacker has a foe: Checkie, the DIS mascot of all things information security. “Checkie is for a check mark,” Lott explained. “Check to see if you're logged out before you leave your computer. Check to see if your password is secure. Check to see if you're in a secure place when dealing with personal information.”

At the end of three weeks, the top five players on the leaderboard will get something just for having fun. Don't worry: It won't be a virus or an actual hack.

“They'll get a little surprise,” Lott promises.