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DARPA Launches The Cyber Grand Challenge; A Two Year Network Security Tournament

by Felix Omondi

DARPA Launches The Cyber Grand Challenge; A Two Year Network Security Tournament

DARPA has launched the Cyber Grand Challenge (CGC), a unique tournament meant to accelerate the development of automated security systems that will protect users from cyber attacks as fast as they happen. Today, DARPA made the announcement that it has come to an agreement that will see the Cyber Grand Challenge grand finale be held at the same time and place with DEF CON Conference in 2016 at Las Vegas.

DARPA Launches The Cyber Grand Challenge; A Two Years Network Security ChallengeAs of today, computer security experts from academia, industry and the larger community of network security experts have come together to form more than 30 teams that will be competing against each other in the CGC. The competition intends to tackle the ever increasing threat posed by inadequate network security systems; which are often only addressed after an attack has taken place and hackers have already taken advantage of the weaknesses in the network security to steal confidential data or have compromised the systems operations. What CGC intends to remedy this by sparking innovations that will lead to the creation of network security systems that prevents these attacks or at least remedies them as fast as they occur with the aim of minimizing or having no actual security breach in the system.

The concern for an efficient network security system has become increasingly important at all levels operations including to the average citizen. With more and more adoption and popular use of advanced consumer devices like the smartphones, smart homes and smart cars among others. These devices are becoming networked to synchronize and coordinate with each other in what has now been described as “The Internet of Things.”

DARPA Program Manager, Mike Walker said, “Today’s security methods involve experts working with computerized systems to identify attacks, craft corrective patches and signatures and distribute those correctives to users everywhere – a process that can take months from the time an attack is first launched. The only effective approach to defending against today’s ever-increasing volume and diversity of attacks is to shift to fully automated systems capable of discovering and neutralizing attacks instantly”.

DARPA Launches The Cyber Grand Challenge; A Two Years Network Security Challenge

In a bid to accelerate this process, DARPA’s CGC will be the first of its kind tournament for computer security that will test not the competence of the computer experts, but the wits of the machines themselves. The competition will follow the “Capture the Flag” model which has been in use by security experts in testing cyber defence skills for more than two decades now. This approach will necessitate the competitors to reverse engineer the software created by the competition’s organizers in order to locate then heal the hidden weaknesses within the system in a live network competition.

DARPA Launches The Cyber Grand Challenge; A Two Years Network Security ChallengeYou may want to know that the longest-running “capture-the-flag” competitions have been held by DEF CON at its annual conferences. Under the new partnership between DARPA and DEF CON, the Cyber Grand Challenge finale competition will coincide in terms of time and venue with the DEF CON Conference event that will be held in Las Vegas in the year 2016. This co-location of the two events will mean that DARPA’s CGC will be held alongside DEF CON’s conference which has been running a successful “capture-the-flag” competition for 22 consecutive years now.

At the CGC finale tournament in 2016, the computers that make it through the series of qualifying competition events over the next 2 years will compete against each other. Currently the organizers of the grand finale are developing a custom data visualization technology that will enable spectators to view the competition easily. This technology will enable spectators to follow the action with a live audience being at the conference and viewers at home using video streaming means to view the event.

At a kickoff event held today, DARPA launched the DECREE; an open-source extension built atop the Linux OS. The DECREE is built from the bottom to top and acts as a platform for operating small and isolated software test samples. However the DECREE is incompatible to any other software worldwide. The DECREE will provide a safe and secure environment for research and experimentation by participants in the Cyber Grand Challenge.

Today, Walker and the rest of the team of organizers will be hosting a 6-hour long, interactive exchange session with the would-be competitors and the general public on Reddit (a community discussion website) starting 10am to 4pm ET. There are already 35 teams from all over the globe that have registered with DARPA, and are embarking on constructing and programming their individual high-end computers that will be suited to compete in the Cyber Grand Challenge. Majority of the competitors have entered through the “open-track” that is available to the self-funded teams, but there is a parallel “proposal track” for invited teams and teams that are partly sponsored by DARPA.

These teams comprises of a mix of participants coming from various academia and industries. The teams will be given a seed funding by DARPA up to when they will be tested at an open competition that will involve all of the teams, which will take place at a major qualification event on June 2015. Registration is still open for other teams until November 2nd, 2014. To register follow this link. The team that will emerge the overall winner will be given a cash prize of $2 million, while in second place winner will get $1 million and third place winner will get $750,000. For details about teams already registered click here.

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