Visallo’s Game of Thrones’ graph of web of love, murders, families, alliances, and betrayals is an entertaining way to see into the connections that have developed over the past seven seasons, but the demo also illustrates how link analysis can transform the way we interact with data. Just as we loaded the entire corpus of Game of Thrones data into Visallo to find hidden connections and visualize dynamics, individual analysts, teams of investigators and even entire companies are increasingly doing the same with their own data—though hopefully with less blood and fewer violent deaths.
Data is more accessible to analysts and investigators than ever, and workflows and their conclusions are becoming increasingly reliant on it. However, the spreadsheet tools many tend to use—usually Microsoft Excel—have not evolved to account for the growing complexity and scale of data being used today. In a spreadsheet, users can efficiently find or calculate a piece or range of data and then apply it to a particular external question. However, often the challenge facing today’s analysts and investigators is less about finding that needle (the answer) in a haystack (the data)—we have Google for that—and more about finding how all the needles in a pile of needles are related to each other. A database can be more than something you query; it can be something you can explore and interact with and within.
Interested in how data visualization tools can help find hidden connections in your organization’s sea of data? Sign up for a demo of Visallo to talk to our team.
Link analysis software like Visallo transforms the way people interact with and understand their data. In the ubiquitous spreadsheet, data is organized in two dimensions—columns and rows—and users can efficiently sort, calculate, find, and even forecast. But using the power of link analysis, those rows and columns and even individual cells can talk to each other. Data becomes more dynamic as it becomes possible to uncover connections and relations between data points.
The ability to quickly hop between nodes transforms that way users interact with their data. In the case of Visallo’s GOT charts, it means giving users the capability to isolate discrete data points (a character, for instance) and not only metadata attached to it, but its array of relationships. Given that Game of Thrones is supposedly based on the rivalry and intrigue of the War of the Roses, the demo provides an interesting model for how national security and intelligence analysts might use link analysis to understand global geopolitical dynamics.
For an intelligence analyst, link analysis tools would allow more fine-grain work too, such as the tracking of a terrorist through the person’s interactions with the world around them. Who do they call? Who do those people call? What locations do they visit? What other individuals visit that same location? And who do those individuals call afterwards? Through link analysis, a robust portrait of a terrorist—or an individual committing industrial espionage at a company—quickly emerges.
In other contexts, such as a cyber threat investigation, if investigators determine there is a certain IP address that is responsible for an attack, they can block it. Using traditional techniques, they can determine all the users who have used that IP address and maybe report them to law enforcement. The logical next step might be trying to find out whether there are other common IP addresses associated with those individuals. If that number of those users is large, though, this can be a prohibitively complex manual task as the data increases exponentially.
However, using software like Visallo makes finding those nodes (the additional potentially malicious IP addresses) easy, visually compelling, and fast. A malicious IP address is linked to a group of uses, and then those users are linked to additional common–and perhaps malicious–IP addresses.
Despite the power of link analysis, for many users of Visallo’s Game of Thrones demo, it is probably the first time they have been able to manipulate a graph database. Why aren’t more people using link analysis in their professional work? The answer is probably threefold:
First, it is likely that more people use it in specialized areas than is commonly recognized. Visallo has users in law enforcement, financial fraud investigations, cyber threat investigations, and even finance—all areas into which there is typically not much public visibility.
Second, link analysis depends on data and its utility scales with quantities and quality of data. Only recently have individuals in a wide array of professions begun using larger datasets and recognizing all the places data can come from. So interest in link analysis is growing. For example, at Visallo we are increasingly seeing customers coming to us with unique use cases in both new industries and new types of data.
Last, one of the strengths of link analysis is its flexibility and open structure, but this means that users need to spend time considering how they want to structure their database and graph. Often just the process of conceptualizing how to frame the ontology can force users to critically examine what their data consists of and what exactly they want out of it. At Visallo, often the most interesting interactions with customers isn’t on the technology side, but rather supporting them with our expertise to build out their own ontology in a way that will allow them to best leverage their data in their graphs.
With the utility and usage of link analysis software like Visallo growing, we’d be happy to discuss how it might benefit your business or investigative needs and work with you to ensure that it is built out in a way that makes the most of your data.
About the Author David has a background in Middle East analysis, energy, and security risk assessments. Currently he does business development for Visallo.