DARPA Announces Cyber Grand Challenge

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — the branch of the Department of Defense (DOD) that commissions advanced research — has announced a new challenge to improve the United States’ cyber defense capabilities.

Dubbed “The Cyber Grand Challenge,” it seeks to improve the United States’ cyber defense capabilities by hosting a competition in which some of the world’s brightest white-hat hackers and tech enthusiasts come together.

So, why is DARPA interested in enhanced cyber attack defenses? The answer is simple: because cyber attacks are on the rise. In 2015, private companies reported some 160 successful cyber attacks per week — and that’s only counting private companies. The unfortunate truth is that many government organizations are also being targeted by hackers, including the White House, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM). DARP hopes its new Cyber Grand Challenge protects against such cyber attacks, for both private and government entities.

The Cyber Grand Challenge (CGC) seeks to automate this cyber defense process, fielding the first generation of machines that can discover, prove and fix software flaws in real-time, without any assistance. If successful, the speed of autonomy could someday blunt the structural advantages of cyber offense,” explained DARPA.

The Cyber Grand Challenge will feature seven teams, each of which will compete for a $3.75 million prize pool in Las Vegas. The first place team will receive $2 million. The second place team will receive $1 million. And the third place team will receive $750,000. DARPA is known for giving away huge monetary prizes, although this is one of the largest prize pools the government-funded organization has announced to date, indicating the importance and significance of developing an automated AI hacking system.

While the primary goal is to enhance cyber security, participating teams will be asked to create an automated artificial intelligence system with the capabilities of scanning network servers and subsequently identifying vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Such tasks are currently being performed by human hackers, who manually identify vulnerabilities for exploit. However, DARPA wants to develop an automated AI system that’s capable of performing this same process, taking the burden off human hackers’ shoulders.

But developing an AI hacker won’t be easy, nor will it be fast. DARPA says such technology can take over a year to develop. Nonetheless, it’s hoping the Challenge will encourage white-hat hackers to put forth the effort to develop automated AI hackers.

What do you think of DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge?