ProtectWise Uses Video Games to Help Make IT Security Jobs More Accessible

There’s a common gripe among the tech-savvy about the way they are presented by Hollywood. It’s not uncommon for films and movies to create a futuristic-looking interface with holographic visuals that pop off the screen and virtual images that can be manipulated by hand.

Those high-tech fabrications exist to hide the dirty secret of the tech community: While what they do may be exhilarating, it often looks incredibly boring — more akin to a spreadsheet than Tony Stark’s lab. And that matters, because while companies are increasingly in need of cybersecurity, young people who are used to games aren’t attracted to the IT and cybersecurity field.

Read: Trump Cybersecurity Executive Order Calls For Review Of Security Of Government Agencies, Infrastructure

While the choice of function over fashion may make sense for the sake of simplicity and continuity, it’s also left behind those who find the presentation of coding languages to be more confusing than intriguing.

The problem has hit the information technology and cybersecurity professions hard at a time when those positions are needed the most. As new threats arise every day targeting individuals and businesses that have plenty of information and money to lose, there is a huge shortage of people with the skills to combat those attacks.

In a survey of 641 information technology professionals conducted earlier this year by the Enterprise Strategy Group, 45 percent of respondents indicated their organizations currently lack the necessary cybersecurity skills to deal with the increasing number of risks.

Nonprofit information security advocacy group ISACA says there will be a global shortage of 2 million cybersecurity professionals by the year 2019. There already are 40,000 information security roles and 200,000 cybersecurity positions that go unfilled each year in the U.S. alone, cybersecurity firm CyberSeek estimates, and job site Indeed reports 1 million are empty worldwide.

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Enter ProtectWise, a company that aims to bridge the gap between the empty chairs in cybersecurity departments and the younger, tech-savvy generation more versed in interfaces found in video games than command prompts.

There are 1.8 billion gamers worldwide, a majority of whom do most of their gaming on a PC. Cybersecurity is anything but a game, but ProtectWise CEO Scott Chasin says if it looks and acts more like one, it just may be able to solve the shortage plaguing companies.

Chasin told International Business Times he and his company “looked at a number of things that are converging on a technological perspective” and decided there were a number of recent developments that could be brought together to give cybersecurity a new face.

The first place Chasin pulled inspiration from was Hollywood. While many of the designs made for the big screen are for show, Chasin saw an opportunity to make those imaginary systems a reality. He tapped a CGI artist who worked on Tron: Legacy to craft an interface that would look like it belonged on a hacker’s monitor in a movie.

What they came up with was a way to reimagine a computer network, with devices connected and communicating but sprawled out throughout an office or even operating remotely as a bustling metropolis.

The result looks like a game of SimCity. The network is laid out in a grid, the way a city planner might start laying out plans. It’s then filled in with visual representations for every device on the network, which are designed to look like buildings.

Those designs aren’t arbitrary to fit the city scheme — the virtual buildings reflect a number of variables about each device.

The height of each building represents the amount of activity it produces: Low activity devices appear like ranch-style homes while connections that account for a lot of action race upward like towering skyscrapers. Width reflects the amount of bandwidth each part of the network requires, and the color of each building indicates the potential threat level those devices face.

In this system, it doesn’t take parsing lines of code to spot a problem in the network. Chasin said it’s more like being a beat cop patrolling the city streets, making sure everything's running smoothly and investigating suspicious activity when necessary.

And in Chasin’s virtual world of cybersecurity, cops are just one role. The city needs a full police force, with people making the most of their skillsets to make sure crime is kept to a minimum.

“In a gaming environment you may be taking down a dragon and you have a team of 40 trying to do it, all with their own roles,” Chasin said. The idea isn’t to gamify cybersecurity but rather to introduce a system that is familiar to the next generation that will be in charge of securing a network.

Chasin said ProtectWise borrows a number of gaming elements — radar, waypoint, inventory management — that are inherently understood by a generation that grew up mouse and keyboard or controller in hand. “That gaming model applied to cybersecurity has the possibility of lowering the skill gap," he said.

It may sound at first like lowering the bar would be counterintuitive for producing better security, but that’s only true if the bar is based on the skills necessary to do the job. Currently, the bar is artificially raised by the needless complexity of toolsets required for the position.

If there’s anyone who understands the tools needed to maintain information security, it’s Chasin. The ProtectWise CEO created BugTraq, the security industry’s first full-disclosure software vulnerability alerting service. Once that project was acquired by Symantec, he went on to co-found MX Logic, a cloud defense company. MX Logic got scooped up by McAfee where Chasin served as chief technology officer of the firm’s cloud security arm.

Chasin has been in the field long enough to know where the barriers are. Now, with ProtectWise, he’s aiming to lower them. "Our system opens up security for the next generation,” Chasin said.” It enables an entire new generation of cyberanalysts to patrol, hunt and respond to threats.”

The next step for Chasin and his team is to embrace the gaming concepts that have helped shape the city-style grid even further by introducing gaming hardware. ProtectWise is currently working on a version of its platform that will allow security professionals to interact with the network in virtual reality and augmented reality.

Chasin said the system will add additional elements with which gamers who have gotten their hands on devices like the Oculus Rift will be familiar. The immersive security project will allow security workers to use spatial recognition and visual filtering to manipulate the network through the virtual realm.

This could open up a whole new world of possibilities for protection strategies, making it easy to literally wipe away all the noise of a network with the swipe of a hand and focus on weaknesses or react to attacks in real-time.

ProtectWise is working with the Unity engine — a popular gaming engine from Unity Technologies that has been used for everything from simple mobile games to sprawling PC titles — to bring its virtual city to life.

This enables the people tasked with defending a network to see it through a number of lenses, Chasin said. A person can watch activity from a mobile phone, put on a VR headset and check out suspicious activity up close, and project the city for a room of other experts — all of which are experiences with which the average person is more comfortable than viewing the numbing text of logfile after logfile.

With threats looming every day, and scenarios like the widespread WannaCry ransomware attack — which infected hundreds of thousands of computers around in the world in a matter of hours — becoming more common, the more evident the need for approachable technological solutions becomes.

"Level one analysts today require very advanced skillsets. In a UI like this, we can remove that," Chasin said while explaining that technology should lower the barrier to entry in the cybersecurity field just as it has in a number of others. As he noted, “You don't have to be a pilot to fly a drone.”

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