Thursday, November 20, 2008

Raffy’s Visualization Book

Here is my long-overdue book review for “Applied Security Visualization“  by Raffy Marty.

First, here is what my early endorsement for the book said (can be found on the inside cover of the book):

“Amazingly useful (and fun to read!) book that does justice to this  somewhat esoteric subject - and this is coming from a long-time  visualization skeptic! What is most impressive that  this book is  actually 'hands-on-useful," not conceptual, with examples usable by  readers in their daily jobs. Chapter 8 on insiders is my favorite!”

What else do I think of the book, apart from the fact that it is awesome? :-)

First, I have to admit that I used to argue with Raffy about usefulness of visualization. I was burned by having to look at bad “visualization” tools and would take an ugly, meaningful table over an ugly, meaningless picture any day now. Thus, I was a visualization skeptic. Buy you know what? The book does justice to visualization really well, and it explains when to use it and when not to use it.

The book gives just the right amount of visualization theory, which is not onerous to read at all (unlike some other books), as well as other visualization basics. The fun starts at Chapter 4, where he covers  the process from data to useful pictures. This actually explains why some visualization are useful and some are not; if you just jam data into a graphing program, there is a good chance that it would not be too useful. If you follow the ideas from Ch4, it is more likely to be useful.

Ch5 and 6 cover network data analysis: logs, packets, flows. This is what most people usually try to visualize; this book goes beyond “worms and scans” into nice visuals of email traffic, wireless and even vulnerability data (I found the latter slightly confusing). Ch7 covers “compliance”, which, in this case, covers all sorts of fun things, from risk assessment to database log visualization.  As I said, Ch8 is my favorite: I agree that insider tracking MAY be the area where visualization tools and approaches beat others. In Ch9, the book covers a few visualization tools; obviously, including the author’s AfterGlow.

So, to summarize, get the book if you have any connection to security AND data analysis. In fact, it is very likely that if you are doing security, you’d have to do data analysis at some point and so will benefit from reading the book. And, yes, it does come with a CD full of visualization tools (DAVIX).

BTW, I am posting it at Amazon as well.

Dr Anton Chuvakin