Mapping the cyber security capacity building network: it just got easier

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Okay, okay, by “doctors” I mean some people with PhDs and when I say they were “shocked” it might be fairer to say they were pleasantly surprised. But there really is a new shortcut to mapping the network of actors involved in international cyber security capacity building. And if you’ve read this far I hope you’ll find it useful.

What makes this new shortcut possible is an effort by the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE) to collect information on international cyber security capacity building projects. This is making available new data sets and a project mapping tool that can simplify the task of visualising our community network to just a few clicks.

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the team developing the GFCE’s project mapping tool. However in this personal blog I’d like to do something a little different. Instead of looking at the relationships between projects I’ll be using the same data – available to all – to look at the network of relationships between capacity building actors.

A simple network

To see a very simple network, with only implementers and the countries or regions they are helping, we can use the network chart in the GFCE’s project mapping tool. With the tool open, hover your mouse over the top right hand corner of the network and click the expand icon that appears. It should open a new page that looks like this…

The international cyber security capacity building network containing just implementers and host countries.
A simple network of implementers and the countries/regions they help

A richer network

To explore the network in greater detail I used a free visualising programme called Gephi and a plugin developed by the Oxford Internet Institute called sigma js. With these we now have a network that looks like this…

The international cyber security capacity building network.
A richer network of capacity building actors

The network shows funders (yellow), implementers (purple), the partners of implementers (green) and the host countries/regions they are helping (red).

An interactive version for desktop users lets you explore each actor’s connections. A mobile and tablet compatible version is in the pipeline at Oxford, but it is unlikely to be available soon. While we await that I’ll explore the other software options for mobile users. I also hope we can find a solution that lets us select the lines between nodes to see details of the projects that connect them.

Insights from the network

The largest node in the network is that of the United Kingdom. Looking behind the curtain of the Gephi algorithm there are two reasons for this. First, the UK has funded a lot of projects and shared information on them with the GFCE. Second, the diversity of those projects connects the UK to almost all the sub-communities within the capacity building network (e.g. cybercrime, incident response etc.).

As the GFCE data set grows we’ll see other actors increasing in prominence within the visualisations and new relationship patterns will emerge. In a future blog I’ll look at what happens when we ask Gephi to identify for itself the communities within our network. I am curious to see whether its take on the network will mirror the ways we typically group actors – e.g. by capacity theme or by continent – or whether it will spot clusters we hadn’t thought of, which might help us organise better in the future.

Gephi mapping the international cyber security capacity building network.
Gephi generating the network

A work in progress

I see this as the start of a journey to map the international cyber security capacity building network. I’m sharing a work in progress, rather than finished, polished products. And with that comes some caveats.

The current data set is just a taster of what is to come, containing only the 275 projects that people have told the GFCE about so far. It needs some further tidying up, because there are still some organisations appearing twice under different spellings.

Also, through a mixture of choice and necessity, I’m using software that is free and can be easily picked up by anyone learning from scratch with no coding or network analysis background. I’m on that learning journey myself and I’d like anyone with a computer to be able to follow along or join in. I feel I’ve gained just enough grasp of the basics to know how much I don’t know and to begin asking the right questions.

Making your own network visualisation

If you want to make a start yourself, the data from the GFCE can be downloaded by any GFCE member or partner from its Microsoft Teams site. Joining the GFCE is free and open to all capacity building countries and organisations. If that’s not an option for you then let me know and we’ll try to help you if we can.

To import the data into Gephi you’ll first need to convert it into a list of nodes and a list of edges (the relationships between nodes). In a future update to this post I’ll attach copies of the lists I used. Follow me on Twitter (@TheRobCollett) to hear news on that and my next blog posts.

Good luck and thanks for making it past the clickbait! I swear they really were doctors.

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