A new government-run competition seeks to advance the boundaries of computer network analysis and defense by developing autonomous cyberdefense capabilities, which combine the speed and scale of automation with reasoning abilities that exceed what human experts can do.
These are the goals of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Cyber Grand Challenge (CGC), which according to agency officials, is the first-ever tournament for fully automated network defense systems. Building on its experience running robotics grand challenges, which greatly advanced the ability of autonomous ground vehicles, DARPA’s new event will have teams of competitors developing automated systems. These smart programs will go head-to-head against one another in real time on a network to evaluate software, test for vulnerabilities, create security patches and deploy to protect computers. To win the $2 million cash prize, teams must combine the capabilities of security software with leading-edge program analysis research, DARPA officials said.
Network computer defense currently is the realm of software specialists who can sift through code to identify weaknesses and back doors. This bespoke analysis is done by hand, making it time consuming, and it cannot be scaled effectively for volume or speed to meet changing threats. While some semi-automated software exists to help analysts, DARPA officials note that there is a need to conduct the analysis and repair parts of network defense in near real time.
This is one of the major goals of the CGC, which is not looking for incremental improvements to existing systems but for new leaps in technical capability. According to DARPA, the CGC program will push competitors to invent and develop truly autonomous cyberdefense technologies.