Cybersecurity Lab Guide for Educators

For discussion questions and lessons plans, go to the Cybersecurity Lab collection on PBS LearningMedia.

The Cybersecurity Lab is a game designed to teach people how to keep their digital lives safe, spot cyber scams, learn the basics of coding, and defend against cyber attacks. Players assume the role of the chief technology officer of a start-up social network company that is the target of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks. In the game, players must complete challenges to strengthen their cyber defenses and thwart their attackers. The Lab also features stories of real-world cyber attacks, a glossary of cyber terms, and short animated videos that explain the need for cybersecurity, privacy versus security, cryptography (cyber codes), and what exactly hackers are.

There are four major gameplay components of the Lab:

  • Coding Challenge: An introduction to very basic coding skills. Players program a robot to navigate a maze, using drag-and-drop commands. 
  • Password-Cracking Challenge: A series of “password duels” teach players the basics of how attackers might try to crack their passwords and how they can make better, more secure passwords.
  • Social Engineering Challenge: Players are presented with two apparently similar emails or websites. They must first identify the differences between them and then decide which one is a scam attempting to steal their information or money. This challenge also includes a number of audio recordings and transcripts of phone calls; players have to decide if they should trust the caller or not. 
  • Network Attacks: As their companies grow, players must buy defenses to defend themselves against a series of cyber attacks. The better that players do in the three challenges, the more resources they’ll have to buy defenses.

Note: The Coding Challenge uses a Blockly interface that requires no prior knowledge of coding. Blockly uses a visual representation of code as blocks rather than a scripted programming language.

Time Allotment

75 minutes

Grade Level

6–12 grade

Standards Alignment Guide

The Cybersecurity Lab reinforces scientific and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts found in the Next Generation Science Standards. To see how the Cybersecurity Lab can be used to meet course objectives, download our standards alignment document below:

Cybersecurity Lab Standards Alignment Guide (113.0 KB)

Glossary of Cybersecurity Terms

The Cybersecurity Lab contains terms that may be unfamiliar to educators and students. In the game, these terms are highlighted with definitions that appear as mouse-overs. Below is a document with all of these terms:

NOVA Labs Cybersecurity Glossary (86.3 KB)

Content Objectives

  • Students will be able to explain computer science terminology related to coding, password protection, social engineering, and network security
  • Students will be able to describe how encryption works to protect privacy
  • Students will be able to describe recent network security breaches and how companies defend against them
  • Students will be able to explain why the term “hacker” is extremely flexible and the variety of roles that hackers play
  • Students will be able to analyze reports of unfolding security breaches and apply their understanding of security networks to them

Process Objectives

  • Students will be able to navigate a robot through a maze using Blockly code in the Coding Challenge
  • Students will use analytical reading skills to distinguish among phishing attempts, fraudulent websites, and phone scammers in the Social Engineering Challenge
  • Students will use logical reasoning to create strong passwords in the Password-Cracking Challenge


  • The Cybersecurity Lab is accessible on web and mobile browsers that support HTML5, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer (version 9.0 and higher)

Multimedia Resources

The Cybersecurity Lab includes four short animated videos that cover a variety of cybersecurity and computer science topics:

Cybersecurity 101

The Internet is fundamentally insecure. However, there are simple things you can do to protect yourself and your information. This video also provides an introduction to the activities in the Cybersecurity Lab.

Cyber Codes

Do you trust the security of your email, text messages, and browser history? Learn how trustworthy online communication actually is and how encryption can protect your privacy. Sometimes.

The Secret Life of Hackers

Hackers may not be who we think they are. In fact, you might be a hacker and not even know it. Learn the true meaning of hacking and some of the many reasons hackers hack.

A Cyber Privacy Parable

Follow the trials and tribulations of Tim as a seemingly innocent piece of information threatens to ruin his life when it falls into the wrong hands.

Teacher Tips for Using the Cybersecurity Lab

The Cybersecurity Lab is a great resource for educators who want to teach their students best practices for staying safe online and introduce them to computer science principles and the architecture of online networks. In addition, school technology and media specialists can use the Cybersecurity Lab as an orientation activity for students before they begin using online resources. English and social studies educators can also use the Cybersecurity Lab to reinforce textual analysis skills, as students must find textual evidence, draw inferences, and make judgments about the validity of sources in the Social Engineering Challenge.

  • Encourage students to create a NOVA Labs account before they start the Cybersecurity Lab for at-home or in-class completion. With an account, students will be able to save their progress in the Lab and also generate a Lab Report that tracks their completion of the game and video quizzes.
  • Use the Cybersecurity Lab video quizzes as a formative or summative assessment to gauge student understanding of the content.
  • After watching the videos, facilitate an in-class discussion with students about the content. Possible discussion topics include: 1.) The changes in technology in the past 15 years that have made cybersecurity such a pressing issue, 2.) Students’ experiences with cybersecurity, or 3.) How much of their lives students share online and the ramifications of sharing
  • Upon completion of the Cybersecurity Lab game, assign the cybersecurity stories as reading assignments with discussion questions that students can complete for homework.

Lesson Plan

Engage (10 min) – Intro activity that poses a question or calls upon prior knowledge

  • Have students watch Cybersecurity 101 and discuss what they know about cybersecurity and what safety measures they currently take with their online information.

Explore (20 min) – Students explore a hypothesis and collect data

  • Challenge students with the question, “How aware are you of the best practices for staying safe online?” Explain to students that in the game, they will explore ways that they can stay safe online and avoid security breaches.
  • Instruct students to create a list of tips that they would follow to avoid online scams and to create reliable passwords.
  • Instruct students to complete all the Level 1 challenges in the game.

Explain (15 min) – Direct instruction and content delivery

  • Reconvene and discuss some of the best practices that they learned and whether they encountered any information that supported or contradicted the tips they compiled before the game.
  • Present the best practices and the glossary terms that are essential to understand cybersecurity and instruct students to take notes.

Elaborate (45 min) – Apply content knowledge and skills to problem (guided practice)

  • Instruct students to complete the remainder of the game and to take notes on other best practices they encounter while playing the game. The Cybersecurity Lab also works well for group play, as students can collaborate in problem solving.

Evaluate (20 min) – Formal assessment (independent practice)

  • Students should complete the video quizzes and turn in their Lab report with confirmation of Lab completion.
  • Educators should also use this opportunity to assess student learning, with short response discussion questions summarizing best practices, the cybersecurity stories, and the glossary terms.

Related Resources

NOVA's Resources

Can a Computer Play Jeopardy!?

Learn about “Watson,” the Jeopardy!-playing supercomputer in this video excerpt from NOVA scienceNOW: "How Does the Brain Work?" Created by a team at IBM, Watson was designed to answer questions on a variety of subjects and was put to the test by competing against human contestants on the quiz show Jeopardy!.

Luis von Ahn: Computer Scientist

In this video from NOVA scienceNOW, meet Luis von Ahn, a computer scientist and professor at Carnegie Mellon who is already at the top of his field at age thirty. Learn about one of his most successful ideas—CAPTCHA—a test that humans can pass but computers cannot, which has been used to improve the security of Internet sites.


In this video from NOVA scienceNOW: "Can Science Stop Crime?," explore how advances in information technology are making cars increasingly susceptible to cyber attacks.

External Resources

Stay Safe Online 

Learn how to protect yourself, your family, and your devices with tips and resources from the National Cyber Security Alliance. – Hour of Code

Learn the basic concepts of computer science with drag-and-drop programming. This is a game-like, self-directed tutorial featuring video lectures by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Angry Birds, and Plants vs. Zombies. The Hour of Code is a continuation of the skills and problem-solving strategies that students encounter in the Coding Challenge, where they learn repeat-loops, conditionals, and basic algorithms.

Code Academy

Code Academy offers free, interactive courses for learning how to code. Learn everything from HTML to PHP and demonstrate your mastery of these coding languages by building websites and manipulating data in servers.