Visualization is Key to Deeper Network Security


If you follow sports at all you’ve probably heard about athletes using visualization to improve performance. It’s a simple tool where an athlete visualizes or “sees” himself or herself performing successfully in the athlete’s mind. Through visualization athletes paint a mental picture of how they will succeed and accomplish their goals.

The concept of visualization also applies to network security. If you’re an administrator it’s important that you have constant insight into what’s happening on the network. Gathering intelligence on users, applications, bandwidth consumed, etc. is a smart idea. Not only does it give you a better understanding of who’s on the network and what they’re doing, it also helps you develop a plan to optimize your network’s performance. Network visualization takes intelligence gathering a step further by providing a graphical representation of network activity. The ability to see various activities across the network in real time is a big advantage.

Want another reason why visualization is important? Most humans learn from watching. Here’s an interesting fact. According to the Social Science Research Network, 65 percent of the population are visual learners. We also process visual information much faster than information that’s text-based. It stands to reason then that having the tools to visualize network activity is critical to gaining a deeper level of security.

These days the new norm in network security is the next-generation firewall. One of the requirements of a next-generation firewall is application identification and visibility. Administrators should be able to view applications in use on the network, the amount of bandwidth and processing power they consume and who the top users are. Using this information you can make informed decisions such as which apps to allow and which to block, the amount of bandwidth to allocate to each app and whether you need to have a talk with an employee about his/her choice of websites which may potentially contain malware.

If you’re still using a legacy stateful packet inspection firewall or even a next-generation firewall to protect your network, here are 10 questions you should ask to make sure you’re getting the right level of protection from your security appliance.

Does my firewall:

  1. Gather information on critical topics such as apps, users, bandwidth consumption and threats across the network?
  2. Present the information visually in a way that makes it easy to understand?
  3. Update the information in real time so that I have the latest data?
  4. Provide daily reports on network threats (viruses, intrusions, malware) and non-essential multimedia apps (gaming, video) that have been blocked?
  5. Allow me to manage bandwidth per application and allocate more to business-critical apps while throttling those that are unproductive?
  6. Provide continual information on other vital functions such as connection count, memory and CPU usage, incoming and outgoing packets and more?
  7. Chart log activity?
  8. Offer filters that allow me to view information in multiple formats over different time periods?
  9. Enable me to export or email data directly from the firewall?
  10. Provide an intuitive dashboard that summarizes all the information I need?

Earlier I brought up the use of visualization in sports and how athletes use it to help improve their performance. Well, here’s another example of visualization, albeit in a slightly different way. The pylon cam. The pylon cam is the NFL’s latest tool for gathering information through visualization. Inside each goal line pylon is a high-definition camera that provides a field-level view across both the goal lines and sidelines. Officials can then use this information to make the correct call on critical plays. It’s an interesting use of the visualization concept to gather information and make decisions, just like in network security.

If you are interested in learning more about firewall solutions that provide application control and network visualization, take a virtual test drive of the SonicWall NSA 3600.

SonicWall Staff