Trends / Technology
Hero Images
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Nov 27, 2019
Though technically wired, it’s tired: a white guy in a hoodie hunched over a keyboard, typing fast, glowing 0s and 1s rushing across the screen. In today’s hyper‑connected world, this sensationalized image of a lone hacker doesn't cover the depth and breadth of the cybersecurity field. Accordingly, in our top sellers, we’re seeing a departure from the cyberpunk aesthetic and a shift towards more colorful, humanizing, and solution‑oriented visuals.

It makes sense that those cyber visuals feel dated now, because they were drawn directly from 1990’s pop culture. Hackers features a crew of stylish disaffected youth, and we can thank The Matrix for those zooming green numbers. These early visuals were imagined at a time when the Internet was new and unfamiliar, but now that people are savvier, cybersecurity imagery could use a refresh.
At Getty Images, customers are interested in showing solutions rather than threats. This year, searches for “cybersecurity” increased by 132%; “information security” went up 157%; “data privacy” went up 159%; and “digital security” went up 171%. By contrast, searches for “hacker computer” declined by 30%.

Companies are aware that positive visuals can make their business seem less intimidating. Cybersecurity firm Hunters.AI uses friendly graphics with warm color palates that are just as inspired by modern art as science fiction, and data‑protection firm Varonis launched an ad campaign that features an oblivious naked man going about his daily business as a metaphor for vulnerability. Bank of America uses photos of professionals in server rooms to advertise its anti‑fraud products.

Still, plenty of cybersecurity imagery relies on visual clichés. According to a 2019 study by the Hewlett Foundation and IDEO, computer security experts feel that iconography such as hoodies, circuit boards, padlocks, and pop‑up windows doesn’t accurately represent who they are or what they do. They consider themselves innovators and defenders, and want to be pictured as such; likewise, users want to feel reassured, not afraid.
Humanizing cybersecurity imagery doesn’t just look more contemporary—it’s more accurate.
A sign of the turning tides, the TV series Mr. Robot portrays hacking as the technical, laborious process it really is, and plays with established stereotypes: the main character is a hacktivist who takes off his hoodie to work a day job at a cybersecurity firm. The show humanizes both ends of the server and balances the excitement of coding with the aesthetic of everyday life. In the real world, the term "hacker" has even evolved into a more ubiquitous term. Popular tech industry events called "hackathons" foster innovation and collaboration, and "life hacks" offer shortcuts to self‑improvement.

Humanizing cybersecurity imagery doesn’t just look more contemporary—it’s more accurate. Phishing attacks, the most common form of cybercrime, exploit human weakness through a simple e‑mail, not complicated code. And in a world where corporations harvest user data and governments meddle in foreign elections, new concepts should be illustrated with updated colors and metaphors so that they're easier to understand. The next wave of cybersecurity visuals will paint a clearer picture of what users are up against online, and the solutions available to them.
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