The simple act of opening an email can leave businesses and private individuals vulnerable to cyber attacks — from hackers who hold data for ransom to thieves who compromise legitimate business email accounts to steal thousands of dollars through unauthorized wire transfers.
California State University, Northridge faculty and students teamed with federal law enforcement officials to create a series of public service announcements (PSAs) to educate the community about trending cyber crimes, as well as remind people about the consequences of online piracy.
“Cyber crimes are increasingly becoming more and more detrimental to all of us,” said CSUN cinema and television arts professor Nate Thomas, who oversaw the university’s involvement in the project. “We worked on a similar campaign on intellectual property theft with the federal Department of Justice and FBI three years ago that got some attention. I guess they liked what we did and asked us to work with them again.”
Thomas, who has his own production company that has created PSAs for a variety of organizations over the years, said he saw an opportunity to teach his students about their responsibility to use their craft for more than just making entertainment.
“I call it doing social work using film and other media,” said Thomas, who won a regional Emmy Award two years ago for his work on the intellectual property theft campaign. “When the FBI approached me again, I knew it was a wonderful opportunity to involve our students in something for which they will get paid and get a nice credit under their belt, but also the chance to learn that they can do good work while helping people at the same time.”
Led by Thomas and his business partner, actor/director Tim Russ, the CSUN team created three 30-second spots. They tackled several issues: ransomware — when special software is used to encrypt files and documents until a ransom is paid — and business email compromise — when thieves target legitimate business email accounts to conduct unauthorized wire transfers of money. A third spot features an interview with someone facing several years in prison for stealing intellectual property.
All three spots debuted in October as part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month. They will be telecast regionally first, and then released nationally. The spots can be viewed on the FBI’s webpage or its YouTube channel.
“All of us must practice cyber security when it comes to our computers at work or at home, on our cell phones or any other Internet-connected device,” said Deidre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
CSUN film senior Amanda Derzy served as the second assistant director on the PSA project. Derzy, who was one of about a dozen CSUN students who worked on the project, developed the call sheets and maps in the days before filming started earlier this year. Once everyone was on set, she helped make sure that the actors were where they needed to be at the right time.
“It was a wonderful experience,” she said. “First off, you think of FBI agents as being dower and strict, [but] the women who were with us that day were professional and approachable. It was so much fun to see everything come together. I had a great time learning about what happens on a professional set. Plus, I now have a professional gig under my belt before even graduating, and for that I have to thank professor Thomas. He’s always looking out for ways to give his students professional experience.”