DARPA Is Establishing An Apps Store For Cyber Operations; Potential To Revolutionize Cyber Operations And The Digital Battlefield
Sara Sorcher, writing on the Christian Science Monitor’s new section on Security, and Privacy in the Digital Age — Passcode, — has article describing a new DARPA initiative [the Pentagon’s future projects/leading edge technology] — the Futuristic Plan X — An Apps Store For Cyber Operations.
“It looks like outer-space,” she begins, “The hundreds of thousands of computers look like stars. Across the vast military network, the sparkling connections between them…look like stars, The U.S. military’s cyber warriors, unlike soldiers patrolling a battlefield overseas, will not hear the sound of an attack coming, They will not see their opponents in the flesh. They will not die because they are in the line of fire.”
“Like information security professionals at private companies, they spend long hours hunkered over computers, analyzing lines of code, trying to detect breaches — a laborious process that requires advanced engineering skills. Though their networks are scanned up to millions of times every day, there is no alarm system that triggers, when an enemy hacker crosses a virtual tripwire to breach their security network. There;s not virtual explosion, if they destroy the data inside,” Ms. Sorcher wrote.
DARPA wants to change this, Ms. Sorcher writes.
“With a project called Plan X, the Pentagon is building what could one day become a virtual reality that gives cyber warriors “instantaneous knowledge of the fact [their]network is being attacked,” says Program Manager Frank Pound. “Slated to cost around $125M over four years, Plan X marks the first major attempt to create an actual…online battle space; and, would fundamentally shift the way the military operates on the virtual battlefield. Simply moving hand across a flat, touchscreen monitor, could allow a user to analyze the health of the entire network; or, find rouge computers that are not supposed to be connected. Attacks would be translated into rich display graphics and 3-D visualizations — so it’s impossible to miss them as they happen. Military specialists could defend against them, by literally dragging blocks of code from a virtual shelf, or marketplace — similar to Apple’s App Store, onto their network. They may one day, even use 3-D visors, like Oculus Rift, a video-game headset to launch these operations in a fully immersive virtual reality,” Ms. Sorcher wrote.
“Here’s why this is a big deal,” she argues, “Protecting its networks from computer attacks is as important to the military as defending the country’s air, land, sea, and space. The Director of National Intelligence has listed a potential compromise of online systems and theft of information as the No. 1 threat to U.S. national security — more than terrorist groups, or weapons of mass destruction. U.S. military superiority, as the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey said recently…..does not carry over into cyber space. The U.S. may have superior weapons and technology; but, the asymmetrical nature of cyber conflict means increasingly sophisticated attackers will always have the upper hand against the defenders,”
“A program such as Plan X, would also speed up the military’s cyber operations,” Ms. Sorcher asserts. “With it, researchers expect it to take up to 72 hours to write, test, and deploy a mission — a process that at this time, sometimes takes months,” or longer.
“The program is still in the early stages,” Ms. Sorcher concludes, “but DARPA is the influential agency that fueled the creation of the Internet in the first place. It also invented the technology behind GPS, video-teleconferencing, and other key tools you likely use everyday. It’s possible, that one day, Plan X could ultimately end up in your hands to help track the health of all the devices in your home network.”
As Andy Greenbderg wrote in the May 23, 2014 edition of Wired.com, “if Plan-X’s Oculus software ever reaches the eyeballs of actual soldiers — a development DARPA says is still years away, Mr. Pound doesn’t deny that the interface would be used for actual offensive hacking, as well as defense, and reconnaissance. Like the rest of Plan X,” he wrote, “it’s meant to be simpler, and a more intuitive way for the U.S. Cyber Command, and other Ameican military hackers, to visualize everything they do in their cyber operations. “Think of Plan X like an aircraft carrier,” Mr. Pound said. “It can carry any weapon system, or capability.”
Mr. Pound also added that “safeguards against reckless, or unauthorized hacking, will be built into Plan X; and, it may actually reduce [digital] collateral damage from ,military cyber attacks, by allowing cyber warriors to better understand the networks they’re attacking.
Mr. Greenberg notes that “Plan X is set to run through 2017, so, it’s unlikely that its Oculus software, or any other interface will be deployed [operationally] before then. By the time it is implemented, Pound admits, Oculus may have already evolved into something very different. In fact, he says DARPA has already been briefed on new features of upcoming Oculus devices, that he declined to describe.”
Since Mr. Greenberg’s article, FaceBook has acquired Oculus and is now part of the social media giant’s panoply of projects the company is working on. Obviously, Oculus has the potential to not only revolutionize cyber operations; but, Law Enforcement, other military operations, medical and health procedures, and entertainment and other purposes.
I also wonder what China, Russia, and others are doing in this area — which is ripe for capability and strategic surprise. Hopefully, the intelligence community is making an effort to find out. V/R, RCP