Although gamification has been widely adopted within enterprises for recruiting, project management and customer engagement, the trend has yet to be widely accepted in cybersecurity. However, many concepts used in game design have the potential to significantly improve today’s security analytics standards and outcomes.
My colleague, Sagar Mohite, is on the front lines of using visualization to innovate within the cybersecurity industry. He is a visualization artist and computer programmer who spent eight years in the data visualization industry building creative projects, including the forthcoming Hyperspace, the world’s first 12-dimensional game. He’s now data visualization researcher at Uplevel Security, a cybersecurity startup based in New York.
The story behind his unique career transition started with an unconventional job interview. Rather than making a case for why he was qualified to work in cybersecurity, he instead opted to let his work speak for itself: He pitched the visualization project he was building.
“At the time, the game I was building was more of a data-visualization project in the concept stage. I was exploring ways to visualize mathematically higher-dimensional data structures,” said Mohite.
Mohite was not only hired, but the visualization techniques he used for the game became a key part of the work he would do over the next year. The goal of the platform he was developing was to use graph theory and machine learning to extract more intelligence from security data. Visualization plays a key role.
“Some of the objectives in my game involve navigating through a complex, higher-dimensional world to discover facts,” he explained. “My work creating this world translated nicely to the task of developing navigation or traversal solutions designed to promote discovery and exploration of security data based on a multidimensional graph.”
What Mohite realized during his analysis of how most vendors try to address security analytics is that context was the missing link between analysis and action. He was tasked with finding ways to visualize the analysis in a way that pinpointed context, and presented the right insights at the right time. For example, instead of focusing solely on how to visualize all data points, Mohite focused on using a reductionist visualization approach to help users select the specific data points needed within a given time period.
“This approach results a context-aware interface, which is based on context-sensitive design used to reduce complexity. Instead of trying to compress all data into a single visualization, determine the context surrounding a data point and selectively make it the focus of attention,” said Mohite.
Context awareness refers to the idea that computers can both sense and react based on their environment, and a context-aware interface is capable of making some assumption about the users’ needs. When applied to the act of surfacing the most relevant insights associated with a cyberattack, the user can interact with the data similar to how they might make a critical decision in a game.
As a result, security teams may soon be embracing their own version of gamification. “My work in designing and visualizations has not only influenced my work in cybersecurity, but also helped me see common themes in designing for discovery. I hope that the game mirrors the experience users have on the platform. In Hyperspace, players can start in a familiar two-dimensional world and fold into higher dimensions as they complete objectives, with each one helping them make sense of direction, movement and symmetry in higher dimensions.”
Security teams need to make fast decisions when a potential threat is identified. In an industry that’s full of so-called “intuitive dashboards” from enterprise software makers, it’s astounding how much still needs to be done manually. Visualization with concepts borrowed from game design presents insight smarter, with more dimension, and allows for more strategic decisions to be made.