DARPA as the model for military cyber innovation

U.S. officials expect cooperation with the private sector will bear little resemblance to a traditional recruiting model.
U.S. officials expect cooperation with the private sector will bear little resemblance to a traditional recruiting model.

After a tense week at the RSA Conference, during which government officials made impassioned overtures to private sector talent, federal officials are coming to realize that cooperation with the private sector may bear little resemblance to a traditional recruiting model.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has provided the most successful model for public-private cooperation. During a talk at last week's RSA Conference, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the Defense Department will launch initiatives similar to the Innovation Advisory Board and ‘Hack the Pentagon' program that receive government funding, but are organized through diverse structures such as grants, contractors, procurement, or other methods. “How much of it will it be a traditional military organization?” he said.

The next generation of military innovation is more likely to resemble DARPA's model than a traditional military structure. One of DARPA's most public and ambitious projects, the Cyber Grand Challenge, has recruited teams of hackers and researchers from all over the world to create automated solutions to software vulnerabilities.

The teams are competing against each other in writing programs that aim to change the balance of power between security professionals and remote attackers by writing code that discovers flaws. “Attackers have the concrete and inexpensive task of finding a single flaw to break a system,” the Cyber Grand Challenge website stated. “Defenders on the other hand are required to anticipate and deny any possible flaw – a goal both difficult to measure and expensive to achieve. Only automation can upend these economics.”

Each of the teams will present in August at the DEF CON Conference in Las Vegas.

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