Educational tools

Recognising false identities, links and websites

‘Suddenly, my personal data was encrypted – photos, personal files, simply everything on my computer,’ reports one Darmstadt resident. ‘And a ransom was issued to unlock my computer again.’ The man did not pay, following the recommendations of the Bundeskriminalamt (German Federal Criminal Police Office), which in such cases advises not to accept the ransom demand, to photograph the extortion message on the screen and report it to the police. Fortunately, the Darmstadt resident had only recently backed up his data externally. This enabled him to restore the entire computer without major data loss. Whether it was a careless click on a link in an email, a malicious download or a visit to a fraudulent website – he was unsure how criminals had gained access to his computer.

With the free online seminar entitled ‘You Are the Firewall – Stay Vigilant, Darmstadt!’, Smart City Darmstadt wants to prepare as many people as possible in the city and beyond to prevent such attacks. ‘Almost everyone has a computer these days, but nobody really teaches us how to use it safely. A wrong click can be very expensive’, says Alex Wyllie from IT-Seal. Founded in 2016, the cybersecurity start-up is now considered one of Germany’s leading providers of security culture and security awareness training. With Smart City, Germany’s first free local cyber security campaign was developed and made available online – making Darmstadt a pioneer in IT security training. Attendees receive a series of emails over a course of several months to get to know many of the devious tricks online scammers use in real life – including set traps that, in this case, do not lead to misfortune.

‘The digital world is not going to disappear – we need enlightened users’

The premise is that an eight-year-old should be able to understand the training as well as a 77-year-old. ‘The digital world is not going to disappear – we need enlightened users’, says Wyllie. And they need to know the tricks that cyber criminals use to target typical behaviour in everyday situations and exploit the curiosity, helpfulness and sometimes thoughtlessness of their victims to access money or valuable data. One example may be someone purporting to be a student asking you to take part in a survey through a provided link. Attacks by criminals may also include requests from online services to verify contact details or a notification regarding a supposedly full inbox with easy access to more storage space via a link. Over time, the learning modules help participants better identify digital traps. Using vivid images and short video clips, they learn how to recognise a fake link. They learn the tricks criminals use to gain their trust. Small training sessions help they verify and consolidate what they have learnt.

‘IT security isn’t that difficult. But it’s important to remain vigilant, not to be naive and not to trust everyone online’, says Wyllie. “We want to help as many citizens as possible receive training in Darmstadt and, if possible, throughout Germany.’ At the same time, this also leads to more company employees being trained. ‘And there are fewer successful cyberattacks in private and corporate environments.’

IT security isn’t that difficult. But it’s important to remain vigilant, not to be naive and not to trust everyone online

Alex Wyllie
Managing Director, IT-SEAL GmbH

Hilpertstraße 31
64295 Darmstadt

Tel.: 06151 / 4938990


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An easy and secure way to meet virtually

Although Germany had long since recognised its need to catch up with the digitalisation of schools and teaching, when schools were closed in March following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, virtually no one was prepared for months of learning taking place in a virtual environment. This put a halt to opportunities to learn from one day to the next. A Smart City project provides a solution to this problem. It gives schools and clubs, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, the opportunity to switch back and forth between face-to-face meetings and discussions in a virtual space at any time.

Stay in touch with the Big Blue Button and comply with data protection regulations

A Smart City project has once again made a difference. In this case, it ensured real-life teaching scenarios could be provided, even though schools were closed in the spring of 2020 and 2021 and entire classes and year groups had to quarantine in autumn 2020. Following Smart City’s principle of making systems and applications usable for Darmstadt’s residents and helping them with digital solutions, a project team provides existing and proven software tools for Darmstadt’s schools, educational institutions and non-profit institutions – ensuring practicality and security. First of all, there’s the Big Blue Button. The video conferencing software was specially developed for use in learning environments and is freely available worldwide as an open-source solution that can be modified to personal needs. Smart City adapted the Big Blue Button to local requirements and has been making it available to Darmstadt schools since spring 2020. ‘The advantage over many other tools for video conferencing is that Big Blue Button runs encrypted and on our own servers in compliance with data protection regulations’, says project manager Antonio Jorba. ‘This rules out misuse of data.’ Thanks to the Big Blue Button, the classes of three dozen Darmstadt schools are currently able to remain in contact without having to attend school in person. They can meet in real time for video lessons, work together on documents and also temporarily work together in groups in separate virtual rooms. Parents can attend the virtual consultation day or parents’ evenings. Schools in the Odenwald district have taken up an option to use it. While the majority of primary schools in Darmstadt benefit from the Big Blue Button as a solo application, secondary schools use the complete package put together by Smart City for comprehensive online teaching. For this purpose, the Big Blue Button was linked to the Moodle learning platform, a customisable open-source solution that has been used in an educational setting for a long time. ‘As a certified connection to Moodle, Big Blue Button is the number one choice among all video conferencing solutions’, says Jorba. Schools apply to the State of Hesse for hybrid teaching – a combination of face-to-face and distance learning – and the use of Moodle. The software runs via its education server. In virtual rooms, teachers provide their classes with learning content such as worksheets, videos and exercises. It is the combination of Moodle and Big Blue Button that brings distance learning as close as possible to real-life teaching conditions. In addition to developing and implementing the necessary connections, the Smart City project team is training teaching staff in how to work with them. The advantage of this is that the schools are not left to their own devices, as the Smart City project team manages the high-performance servers centrally. And once the rules have become established in the schools, individual classes or even entire year groups can switch from face-to-face teaching to the virtual space from one day to the next – and back again. Even 16 charitable institutions in Darmstadt – from a sports club for disabled people to the parish – are already using the Big Blue Button for staying in contact virtually. The Darmstadt fire department has also made use of the tool for their training and safety training.

Orientation for individual educational pathways

Acquiring new skills, broadening horizons or improving career prospects. Whatever your goal, continuing your education after leaving school requires you to know what is happening where. The relevant education providers are easy to find. But not everyone is aware that you can do memory training at the Muckerhaus in Arheilgen or attend a floristry course at Hofgut Oberfeld. And what about training to be a city guide or telephone counsellor? Where do you go if you want to become a reading mentor?

From spring 2021, the >> Digital Education Pathfinder will provide a comprehensive overview of adult education opportunities in Darmstadt. Dr Monika Krutsch, Director of the adult education centre Volkshochschule Darmstadt (vhs), has brought two professors from Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences on board for the Smart City project: Dr Pia Sue Helferich and Dr Werner Stork. Working with administration and online communication students, they developed ideas for a digital information platform during a seminar. ‘The input from experts for coming up with personas was also important’, says Fabian Jankowski, a project manager at vhs. ‘We used the personas to think about the sort of people who are committed to using an educational pathfinder of this kind, and what their prerequisites, expectations and intentions are’. With the help of filters in a step-by-step process, users are able to find an educational programme that suits their interests. This can be anything that comes after traditional education and training, which is then sorted into two categories: ‘vocational education’ and ‘education for free time’.

An ever increasing number of diverse educational programmes

From the large selection of education providers in Darmstadt and the surrounding area, around 40 will be covered at the start, opening up a diverse range of educational opportunities. ‘There are more and more every day’, says Jankowski. ‘As soon as the Digital Education Pathfinder is online, even more providers will notice it and contact us’. As its name suggests, the platform is intended to serve as a guide through Darmstadt’s crowded educational landscape with further education and training opportunities, courses and workshops. The education providers take care of the registration process for the respective courses or seminars ‘We want to show residents of Darmstadt what opportunities are out there that allow them to follow their own educational pathway’, says Jankowski. And who knows – maybe the creativity course taken for fun in your free time might be the first steps towards a major career as an artist.

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