Dr Simon Walton, Research Associate in Visualisation, talks to us about cybersecurity, representing data visually - and free coffee...
When did you start at the Centre and what was your first role here?
I moved to Oxford in October 2011 to be a part of Professor Min Chen's (then) new scientific visualisation group at the centre.
What is your background?
My PhD was in something called volume graphics, a subset of graphics dealing with the three-dimensional datasets produced by, for example, MRI and CT machines. I have also worked in industry as a senior software engineer, so I have 'real world' experience too.
Summarise the research you are doing / your research interests in a few sentences.
My work is in data visualisation and visual analytics – bringing together potentially numerous and disparate sources of data and representing them visually. I have applied novel visualisation techniques to medicine, geology, the humanities, and recently our group has been looking into using visual analytics to mitigate the various problems with using statistical models in cybersecurity.
Why is this important (to the scientific community / the world at large)?
A strong and scalable cybersecurity strategy is absolutely essential for the country in the coming years, and central to this is the question of how to work with and improve statistical models in everyday operations in a reliable and scalable way. Our work has provided the first steps towards this, and recent positive feedback from industry has indicated that we are moving in the right direction.
What would you like to do next, funding permitting?
I would like to look further into the use of visual analytics for protective monitoring environments. I have also really enjoyed our group's more general visualisation papers aimed at solving general problems in visualisation such as optimal colourmap choices, and the trade-offs in representing spatiotemporal data for analysis and dissemination.
Are you involved in any wider collaborations? Why are these important?
I have been involved with numerous visualisation projects with other researchers, including recently the visualisation of the distribution of incunabula through Europe with the Modern Languages department. Incunabula are books printed using metal type before 1501. I'm also the academic advisor for an Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the International Seismology Centre, overseeing the development of a state of the art visual analytical system for analysing and reporting on seismic activity.
What publication /paper are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of my VizSec 2015 paper, "A visual analytics loop for supporting model development", since having the confidence to first-author papers with minimal assistance has traditionally been a challenge for me. The paper was very well accepted within the community and has resulted in further talks at numerous events. My supervisor was instrumental in giving me this confidence.
Have you received any awards or fellowships?
I was invited last year to the programme committee for IEEE VizSec – the IEEE Symposium on Visualization for Cyber Security, where I serve as poster chair as well as on the general programme committee. It is a great community to be a part of.
What do you think the most important issues/challenges in your field will be in the next decade and how is the Centre placed to address them?
I think that visualisation will develop a vital role in protective monitoring for cybersecurity. We can't rely just on statistical models since we can't encode human knowledge and intuition easily. Similarly, we can't rely just on visualisation either due to the sheer scale of the datasets. Human intelligence cannot be replaced. Visual analytics provides the bridge.
What do you think the Centre does best?
The Centre provides a great mix of researchers from so many disciplines. The seminars we hold are also very varied, so you end up learning about disciplines you'd never even heard of previously. The working environment is very relaxed, and crucially there is free coffee available all day.