This Pentagon Project Makes Cyberwar as Easy as Angry Birds

Darpa has already spent more than $5 million (.pdf) on preliminary studies into Plan X. Akamai Technologies, the Internet content delivery network, received $2 million to look at new ways to understand network topologies.  Portland, Oregon-based Galois, Inc. did some research into a unique programming language for online warfare — what HTML is to the web, this language might be to cyberattack.

But that’s all a warm-up. The first full phase in this $110 million, four-year program is about to begin. By August, contracts will be awarded for Plan X’s system architecture, battlespace analytics, mission planning, and more. (Frog Design decided not to go on with Plan X, but Massive Black is hoping to be one of the firms designing the interface.)

Starting in September, Developers will code together in six week “sprints” at a common workspace not far from Darpa HQ. At the end of the first year, Roelker is planning a Plan X “product launch.” At the event, he’d like to introduce a Plan X software developers kit — a set of tools, like the kind Apple or Google uses to encourage apps to be built for their smartphones. Except this one will be for hackers. If everything unfolds according to Roelker’s intentions, a whole ecosystem of cyberwar programs will grow around Plan X.

Roelker says he’s doing all this to protect Americans’ access to the Internet. The U.S. is never going to train enough hackers to stop its online adversaries, he explains. The only way to get ahead is to out-innovate them. “Cyberwar isn’t a war of people, it’s a war of technology,” Roelker says. “Trying to hire lots of people in a space that’s run by machines working at the speed of light just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Perhaps. But I wonder aloud whether developing a cyberattack infrastructure enhances security — or undermines it.  Whether he’s building a market for network mayhem. The U.S. government, according to several published reports, is already the biggest buyer of malware that takes advantage of previously unknown computer vulnerabilities. That’s driving up the price of these “zero days,” and making their discovery an even more lucrative enterprise. Couldn’t the same thing happen with Plan X?

Roelker fumbles a bit, then settles on an answer: “It’s definitely not the intent of Plan X to create markets, and I don’t think it’s going to.”

Darpa was established by President Dwight Eisenhower more than a half-century ago to prevent another incident of strategic technological surprise, like the Soviet launch of the Sputnik spacecraft. It’s long been the mantra at Darpa that the best way for America to prevent such surprises is to create the leap-ahead technology ourselves. But even inventors can be caught off-guard by what they make. As the Plan X demo ends, I can’t help but wonder who will be the most shocked, eventually, by what we’ve seen on that cyberwar screen.

Retrieved from wired