WhyViz: Transforming Cyber Data into Human-Centered Visualizations

Period of Performance: 07/09/2015 - 04/10/2016


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Applied Visions, Inc.
6 Bayview Avenue
Northport, NY 11768
Principal Investigator


ABSTRACT:Cyber operators mentally integrate numerous data sources, many whose native format is difficult to comprehend. Visualizations can help, but the raw data must first be transformed. Designing effective visualizations is also difficult because there is a dearth of empirical research on how various visualizations affect the cyber operators performance. Secure Decisions proposes to systematically research this problem starting with a knowledge elicitation of cyber operators to establish their information requirements and cognitive challenges, and developing visualizations to meet the operators needs. We have chosen to focus on alert triage/escalation, vulnerability assessment and incident response tasks; and more specifically on the mission impact decisions that operators have to make when engaged in these tasks. Establishing the mission relevance of an alert or vulnerability, or assessing the mission impact of an incident response is a hard problem that is not currently automated. The USAF Cyber Vision specifically cites visualization of cyber impacts on missions as a near-term goal. It involves understanding complex dependencies between network entities, users and missions. Because semantic ontologies are excellent at representing complex relationships, we will use that as our data transformation approach. Finally, well design a Phase II experiment to objectively evaluate how visualizations affect operator performance.BENEFIT:The proposed work will make several contributions to the cyber defense domain: ??1. A significant step forward in meeting the USAF Cyber Vision near-term goal of being able visualize cyber impacts on missions. ??2. Deep insight into how cyber operators currently assess the mission relevance of alerts, vulnerabilities and incident responses and consider mission impact in their cyber defense decisions. This will include information about the analytical questions they ask, information needed to answer those questions, decision processes used, and data sources consulted. ?3. Identification of cognitive challenges and other impediments to assessing mission relevance when performing alert triage/escalation, vulnerability assessment, or selecting courses of action in incident response. ?4. Prototype visualizations designed to help cyber operators gain awareness of the mission relevance of alerts, vulnerabilities and incident responses ?5. Visualization of the complex dependencies between network devices, users and missions that can be applied to emerging Department of Defense programs in cyber mission assurance and mission impact analysis. ?6. Enhanced understanding of how visualizations can be used by cyber operators to assess the mission impact of various cyber defense activities. It will shed light on the insights that cyber operators gain and the types of visual patterns they look for when answering questions such as: Which of the myriad of alerts are occurring on mission-critical devices? Which of these vulnerabilities must be remediated before the mission can be assured? What users and operational roles will be affected by closing this port or blocking this IP address? ?7. An assessment of the feasibility of using a semantic ontology as a data transformation method to represent complex relationships between network devices, users and missions. The feasibility study will identify changes required to improve its use with various visualizations and new data sources. ?8. A fully described experimental design to be conducted in Phase II to assess the effectiveness of various visualizations on cyber defense activities. ????