DARPA Seeks Innovation from Hacker Community

Monday, February 07, 2011

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking to spur cyber security innovation from smaller, private cooperatives normally shut out of the federal research and development contract arena.

DARPA program manager Peiter "Mudge" Zatko announced the Cyber Fast Track initiative at the ShmooCon security research conference last month in Washington, D.C.

The Cyber Fast Track program will support the development of unconventional solutions that can be created over short intervals by low budget operations.

"Since the early '80s there has been some contingent of cyber researchers and hobbyists operating in low-budget settings," Zatko told NextGov, referring to the numerous collectives that represent what is commonly known as the hacker community.

Zatko notes that the federal system is "set up for multimillion-dollar, multiyear-long efforts," and not conducive to eliciting participation from the smaller innovators who are able to accomplish a great deal with very little in the way of resources.

The current system is geared towards applying expensive security solutions to enormous IT infrastructures, and the the strategy is simply unsustainable from a budgetary perspective, according to Zatko.

"You're spending all this effort layering on all this extra security, and it turns out that's introducing more vulnerabilities," Zatko is quoted as saying by NextGov.

Zatko hopes the new initiative will lead to the rapid development of security solutions at a much lower price tag.

DARPA is known for being on the leading edge of defense development efforts, as the agency's website explains:

"DARPA is the research and development office for the U.S. Department of Defense. DARPA’s mission is to maintain technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security. We also create technological surprise for our adversaries."

Zatko encouraged the independent nature of the research conducted by the hacker community in his presentation at ShmooCon. He formerly was associated with the Boston-based hacker collective L0pht who provided Congressional testimony in the late 1990's.

The Cyber Fast Track initiative announcement follows news that the Department of Homeland Security has launched a program offering $40 million in funds for cybersecurity research and development, and is seeking proposals for projects on a broad range of information security challenges to bolster network defenses.

The program invites the development of new solutions and prototypes as well as the innovation and advancement of existing technologies.

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