Operator Impressions of 3D Visualizations for Cybersecurity Analysts





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Cybersecurity analysts ingest and process significant amounts of data from diverse sources in order to acquire network situation awareness. Visualizations can enhance the efficiency of analysts’ workflow by providing contextual information, various sets of cybersecurity related data, information regarding alerts, among others. However, textual displays and 2D visualizations have limited capabilities in displaying complex, dynamic and multidimensional information. There have been many attempts to visualize data in 3D, while being displayed on 2D displays, but success has been limited. We propose that customized, stereoscopically perceivable 3D visualizations aligned with analysts’ internal representations of network topology, may enhance their capability to understand their networks’ state in ways that 2D displays cannot afford. These 3D visualizations may also provide a path for users who are trained and comfortable with textual and 2D representations of data to assess visualization methods that may be suitably aligned to implicit knowledge of their networks. Thus, the premise of custom datavisualizations forms the foundation for this study. Herein, we report on findings from a comparative, qualitative, within-subjects usability analysis between 2D and 3D representations of the same network traffic dataset. Study participants (analysts) provided information on: 1.) ability to create an initial understanding of the network, 2.) ease of finding task-relevant information in the representation, and 3.) overall usability. Results indicated that interviewees indicated a preference for 3D visualizations over the 2D alternatives and we discuss possible explanations for this preference.