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Moving Beyond "Death Star" Graph Visualizations


I was recently talking to a security leader at a large bank that is investing in graph capabilities for security detection and investigation. He shared that he and his colleagues were not satisfied with the current state of graph visualizations, which they affectionately described as a “Death Star” - see the graphic below (and compare to above). While some “Death Star” visualizations can look very pretty, they are typically not very useful and suffer from performance problems. At Sift Security, we focus on highlighting the structure of the graph without overloading the browser and the user with information.

Graph Visualizations
* Patent pending

Challenges with the “Death Star” Visualization

When we speak to our customers (Security Analysts, Incident Responders, Threat Hunters) about their objectives for graph visualization, what we typically hear is a desire to simplify and accelerate investigations. The typical user is not a data scientist, but is a junior or mid level analyst looking to get their job done more efficiently.
The key issues with the typical “Death Star” visualization syndrome are.
  1. Poor performance. For any visualization to be useful, users needs to be able to quickly interact with it. Displaying large graphs with 1000s of nodes can cause performance problems for browsers, particularly when users may have 10s of windows open concurrently.
  2. Hard to interpret. Another problem with displaying 1000s of nodes, is that it overwhelms the user with way too much information - which defeats the purpose of using graph visualization in the first place.

Sift Security’s Approach to Graph Visualization

At Sift, our approach is to keep it simple. We use aggregations to combine nodes with similar relationships, enabling us to easily highlight the structure of the graph while showing the least amount of information possible. In the visualization above, Sift highlights the key relationship from more than 500 entities with only 5 nodes and 4 edges. This is easy for the user to interpret, fast for the browser to render, and enables seamless interaction with the data.
Some of the key advantages of Sift Security’s approach to graph visualization are:
  1. Fast performance. Sift Security does the heavy lifting with our scalable big data platform, and minimizes the workload for the browsers, thus speeding up performance.
  2. Easy to interpret. By combining similar entities, the structure of the data is much easier for typical users to interpret. We summarize the entities present in aggregate relationships and enable to user to search within aggregate nodes. This enables users to comb through massive datasets and to easily identify and extract specific relationships of interest.
  3. Embedded analytics. We also heard from many customers, that they wanted help in identifying what to do next, through embedded analytics. At Sift we highlight alerts and anomalous relationships in the graph, so users can start by exploring the “interesting” data within the graph.
  4. Integrated workflow. Another benefit of Sift Security is that users can connect directly from our canvas to 3rd party products. This allows them to seamlessly take action on what they find. For example, when investigating a Cloud incident, an analyst might want to take a snapshot of the instance. This, and much more, can be performed directly from the graph canvas.

A New Hope

I think you’ll probably agree that no one likes a Death Star, or even the “Death Star” visualization syndrome, especially if you are a security analyst, Incident Responder, or Threat Hunter looking for a more efficient way to do your job. At Sift security, we are all about defining a better, simple, and more effective way to visualize your security investigations - we certainly believe there is a “New Hope” when it comes to visualization. We encourage you to check out our products, and see for yourself just how effective our visualization really is.

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