Maintaining situational awareness of what is happening within a computer network is challenging, not least because the behaviour happens within computers and communications networks, but also because data traffic speeds and volumes are beyond human ability to process. Visualisation techniques are widely used to present information about the dynamics of network traffic dynamics. Although they provide operators with an overall view and specific information about particular traffic or attacks on the network, they often still fail to represent the events in an understandable way. Also, visualisations require visual attention and so are not well suited to continuous monitoring scenarios in which network administrators must carry out other tasks. Situational awareness is critical and essential for decision-making in the domain of computer network monitoring where it is vital to be able to identify and recognize network environment behaviours.

Here we present SoNSTAR (Sonification of Networks for SiTuational AwaReness), a real-time sonification system to be used in the monitoring of computer networks to support the situational awareness of network administrators. SoNSTAR provides an auditory representation of all the TCP/IP protocol traffic within a network based on the different traffic flows between between network hosts. SoNSTAR narrows the gap between network administrators and the cyber environment so they can more quickly recognise and learn about the way the traffic flows within their network behave and change. SoNSTAR raises situational awareness levels for computer network defence by allowing operators to achieve better understanding and performance while imposing less workload compared to visual techniques. SoNSTAR identifyies the features of network traffic flows by inspecting the status flags of TCP/IP packet headers. Different combinations of these features define particular traffic events and these these events are mapped to recorded sounds to generate a soundscape that represents the real-time status of the network traffic environment. Listening to the sequence, timing, and loudness of the different sounds within the soundscape allows the network administrator to monitor the network and recognise anomalous behaviour quickly and without having to continuously look at a computer screen.

Further details can be found in the two journal articles below and some example sonifications can be found in the project’s repository.

  • Debashi, M., & Vickers, P. (2018). Sonification of Network Traffic for Detecting and Learning About Botnet Behavior. IEEE Access, 6(1), 33826–33839.

  • Debashi, M., & Vickers, P. (2018). Sonification of Network Traffic Flow for Monitoring and Situational Awareness. PLoS One, 13(4), 1–31.

  • Debashi, M., & Vickers, P. (2017, July). nuson-SoNSTAR: Sonification of Networks for SiTuational AwaReness.