Case Study: Langner, Inc.

Outsmarting cybercrime — with network diagrams

How Langner, Inc. uses CAD-like visualization to protect power plants and factories.

When the cybersecurity pioneer who cracked the Stuxnet malware pivots to producing software, only the smartest SDK will do.

It’s not every day that a leading security consultancy transforms into a software vendor. Langner, Inc. can be considered an international software “startup” with over 30 years’ experience! Originally, the Delaware-based company provided consulting services with a view to mitigating cyber risk. But over time, they noticed that every single client, large or small, lacked the foundation for a solid risk assessment: an inventory of assets.

Needs & objectives

Needs analysis

  • Visualization of complex networks
  • Interactive analysis & drill-down
  • Visio export
  • Orthogonal layout style

Objectives

  • Fast implementation
  • User-friendly visuals
  • Easily switch between auto-generated views, each highlighting a different aspect of the data

The downside of connectivity

In modern power plants and factories, digital technology is employed to automate industrial processes. Plant systems have become increasingly intertwined with IT. Today’s factories have extensive digital networks with many thousands of digital devices. Unfortunately, this also means that cyber-physical attacks — physical manipulations using computers and malware — are becoming more common. Perpetrators can now cause damage anonymously, and from a distance. To outwit these criminals, cyber risk assessment is crucial, and digital asset management is the essential first step.

Industrial control system networks are more complex than IT networks, but less properly documented.

Software to the rescue

What is OT?

Operational technology (OT) is hardware and software that detects or causes a change, through the direct monitoring and/or control of industrial equipment, assets, processes, and events.

Source: Gartner Glossary

Responding to the urgent need for OT asset management, Langner has developed OT-BASE, a software product that revolutionizes plant security. It also gives engineering and maintenance staff an unprecedented overview of their networks. Today, OT-BASE is Langner’s sole focus.

In developing the software, Langner had to clear several hurdles. First of all, most OT networks are very complex. Second, they are heterogeneous — depicting different types of systems at various locations. In the status quo, companies use Excel and Visio to map all of this, manually! However, this does not scale. So automatic diagram generation is the way to go.

Langner wanted to offer interactive network analysis with drill-down, for insight into complex, deeply nested structures. Exporting the diagrams into Visio would make it easy to share these insights with all concerned. And an orthogonal layout style – a technically accurate drawing of the network, resembling traditional wiring – would win users over. After all, people tend to like what they already know.

Visualized with yFiles, complex networks are easy to understand. Langner previously tested JavaScript open source libraries, but their results were considerably more chaotic.
“To best serve our clients, we wanted to depict orthogonal connections, like the wiring diagrams they are familiar with. yFiles offers this, and much more.”
Ralph Langner, Founder and CEO, Langner, Inc.

Helping users feel at home

Fun fact

yFiles was a strong contender from the start, for a simple reason: Langner has been using yEd graph editor for many years, and is very pleased with it! yEd is a free application that also features the automatic diagram layouts available in the yFiles software library.

After a rigorous selection process, the company identified yFiles as the best fit. As CEO Ralph Langner reports, the SDK (software development kit) was very easy to integrate, and the developers were excited about the many capabilities they could easily add to their tool.

yFiles can easily depict complex networks in a CAD-like orthogonal view. The generated layouts and renderings are crystal clear, and users can switch between various graph item styles to increase performance for even larger networks. According to Ralph Langner, being able to toggle back and forth between layouts is also very helpful, because it highlights different aspects of the data. The Visio export feature, introduced 2020, is another welcome addition. And then there’s the UX benefit, which clinched the deal: “For our users, switching to new software is always a challenge. With yFiles, we offer them an orthogonal layout. That way, the graphs look and act familiar.”

Better visibility, better protection

As industrial automation increases around the world, Langner’s OT-BASE software helps protect vulnerable locations — like power plants, water treatment facilities, and large manufacturers — against cyber-physical attacks. yWorks is thrilled to provide the visualization components and the layout algorithms the company needs.

Further info: yFiles demos

  1. Large Graphs
  2. Layout Styles
  3. Isometric Drawing

About Langner

Langner, Inc. can be considered a software startup with 30 years’ experience in OT. The company became famous for cracking the Stuxnet malware, providing the most technical in-depth account of what the destructive routines were designed to do. After Stuxnet, they morphed into a software vendor with 100% focus on OT-BASE, an asset management system for industrial control systems. Among the features of OT-BASE is the automatic discovery of complex industrial networks which can be visualized in interactive topology diagrams.

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