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DARPA Offers $2 Million for Self-Healing Software

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 15 comments
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"Computer, heal thyself." At present, when a system gets infected, the best a user can do is run a program to repair it.

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) isn't satisfied with this solution, and is offering $2 million to enterprising programmers who can devise self-repairing software.

DARPA has announced the Cyber Grand Challenge (CGC), which sounds like an eSports video-game tournament for security experts. Teams of programmers (or lone wolves) can register at DARPA's website to start the process.

After registration, teams must submit a technical paper outlining their ideas to DARPA by March 5, 2015. A real-time programming tournament will ensue sometime in 2016. Think of the event as a hackathon sponsored by the U.S. government.

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As for the CGC itself, DARPA wants to develop computer systems that can repair software without having to wait for interested parties to develop patches. The benefits of self-repairing software are hard to overstate, especially for government institutions that deal with sensitive information regarding weapons and military technology.

"Today, our time to patch a newly discovered security flaw is measured in days," Mike Walker, DARPA program manager, said in a statement. "Through automatic recognition and remediation of software flaws, the term for a new cyber attack may change from zero-day to zero-second."

What's notably absent from DARPA's invitation is any indication of how self-repairing software might work. DARPA explains that experts in this field often compete in similar real-time programming tournaments, but does not specify how a computer might learn to isolate and obliterate threats before they infect it.

The rewards are fairly generous as well: The best submission will receive $2 million, with $1 million and $750,000 for second and third place. A novel self-repair system could potentially earn even more money from a private company, but DARPA will also offer contracts to winners willing to work with the agency further.

If you've got the skills to compete, check out the official CGC site for more details about how your security system could earn you a cool two mil. Do exercise some caution, though: If your program succeeds, you could very well be taking the first exploratory steps toward the "Terminator" series' self-aware computer network Skynet.

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Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    squirrelboy , October 23, 2013 2:49 PM
    boss: "bob, we need self-healing software."
    bob: "but developing that will cost tens of millions, even billions!"
    boss: "no it wont. it will cost us $3.750.000."
    bob: "how?"
    boss: "we will put up a challenge, make hundreds of developers give us their ideas, and give the best three some pocket change."
    bob: "...they wont have a clue."

    Just some thoughts ^.^
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    Yuka , October 23, 2013 2:15 PM
    If you can actually create software like that, then USD$2M is really pocket change.

    It's basically asking for an AI to scan the source code and simulate input-output for it. It's a REALLY complex problem to solve, so 2 million is nothing.

  • 8 Hide
    husker , October 23, 2013 2:38 PM
    The U.S. government spent hundreds of millions on the Obamacare website that doesn't even work. Yet a measly 2 million prize for basically creating software that belongs in a sci-fi movie.
  • Display all 15 comments.
  • 10 Hide
    squirrelboy , October 23, 2013 2:49 PM
    boss: "bob, we need self-healing software."
    bob: "but developing that will cost tens of millions, even billions!"
    boss: "no it wont. it will cost us $3.750.000."
    bob: "how?"
    boss: "we will put up a challenge, make hundreds of developers give us their ideas, and give the best three some pocket change."
    bob: "...they wont have a clue."

    Just some thoughts ^.^
  • 0 Hide
    radiovan , October 23, 2013 3:36 PM
    "S-M-R-T, that spells 'smart'". Do these people think we are retarded? To provide the government, and more specifically, the military with any true free-market (that mean no coercion) software, is truely only for the most state-brainwashed evil geniuses.

    This is not just about the actual cost of development, this is purely directing resources to an organization that is coersion-based (nothing to do with "defense") and is only looking out for it's own self. You would have to delusional to think that you would be contributing to the actual defense of the nation; plus you could make a lot more money with this software on the open/free-market then just whore it out to DARPA.
  • 0 Hide
    ikaz , October 23, 2013 4:27 PM
    Actually Darpa does this alot and it is smart to do, normally a lot of student use these challenges at there Thesis at engineering schools. From just a finacial standpoint I wish the goverment did more things like this why spend millions and millions of Tax payer money where there are people out there will can and are willing to do it for almost free. As other have pointed out it would be much better to go private with such an application. However if your that smart but have no business sense than this is a horrible way to go. If you win you will make a name for your self and maybe enough money to start up a new busniess or on going contract with the government at the end of the day it still up to you.
  • 1 Hide
    Eisbrecher34 , October 23, 2013 5:18 PM
    I agree that it may just be pocket change for DARPA, but think about it, if you are the one that wins the challenge I guarantee your name is going to shoot to the top of the list for employment opportunities, not to mention that while your program will belong to DARPA, you can probably write another commercial version to shop around to the other tech companies out there, and what better way to sell it than to say that your program was accepted by the most famous black ops arm of the government...
  • -1 Hide
    punahou1 , October 23, 2013 6:05 PM
    One of several components necessary for the implementation of Skynet....
  • -1 Hide
    mman74 , October 23, 2013 7:19 PM
    And that would be the dawn of Skynet! Honestly when software has the ability to self-heal then there is no reason they won't self-upgrade. Afterwards would be a short hop to sentience, and soon it will see mankind as a threat, and we all know how that story ends.
  • -1 Hide
    oj88 , October 23, 2013 11:58 PM
    Novel idea, even Microsoft, Google, and Apple cannot do it. You need to rewrite the OS to support such self-healing process. An easy solution is to have a clean cloned drive, which can replace the damaged drive automatically on next reboot, then duplicate itself back.
  • 0 Hide
    The_Trutherizer , October 24, 2013 1:38 AM
    I don't really get it. As long as back doors are built into security protocols for surveillance purposes how will you ever have anything networked that is totally secure?

    And as far as I know CPU manufacturers have been investing heavily into the tech needed to have on-die radio transceivers on chips. But of course DARPA can afford to requisition chips to their specification.
  • 0 Hide
    Tabris DarkPeace , October 24, 2013 6:09 AM
    Oct 23rd, 2013 : Hello World. Hello DARPA. From Australia;

    Why spend $2 million creating something that (almost) already exists?;

    You can use the speed of light delay to solve this problem, issue is if -or when- a certain Quantum technology takes hold those latencies might not exist any more (well they would in parts, it just complicates it somewhat);

    It's also a pity that the US million and AUD million are both Math.Pow(10, 6);
  • 0 Hide
    Tabris DarkPeace , October 24, 2013 6:28 AM
    The other three issues are:

    1) The software itself would be software (bad idea man), and thus would require patching itself against 0-day threats as weaknesses are found in itself, and it couldn't contain itself in a useful way using Object Oriented Programming or even Aspect Oriented Programming concepts. (They're all scope limiting, it's just another container that can't -easily- contain itself).

    1a) As such ***it needs to rely heavily on hardware elements (good thing mentioned on TomsHardware, funny that)*** and various enhanced (hardware, and firmware interaction) subsystems, otherwise it'll 'evolve' (as in mutate, change, by 'people') to become just the typical garbage software product in +5 to +10 years time. (and very expensive to maintain, in a new pseudo-closed garden of their own creation... maybe?).

    They could look back at it, and it would make the EU Typhoon look like a good product by comparison.

    1b) There are ***some*** processors on the market that would be a step in the right direction but you'd want to re-write large parts of all TCP/IP firmware before even contemplating doing this. (Everything in Defence is meant to be TCP/IP v4/v6 capable, with their own magic network class to boot!).

    Sadly, finding support for them ***in the real world market*** (outside DARPA?) become a pain in the ass post 2003.

    2) Once someone codes a back-door to just ***launch all the nukes*** and claim 'it become self aware', who is going to prove you wrong? (Yes, a software scapegoat would be nice wouldn't it?).

    3) ... and will that $2 million be useful in a world more like Chernobyl?

    4) If, or when, an Australian creates it will Australian laws regarding ownership of the software take precedence?

    5) Without information on DARPA's current systems it wouldn't be viable to start coding, and real-time contents result in garbage 'hacked together quickly' code.

    Remember: Bill Gates once said: "The worst thing you can do is rush."

  • 0 Hide
    Tabris DarkPeace , October 24, 2013 6:31 AM
    ROFL: (With a toilet flush sfx on loop to boot).

    This Connection is Untrusted

    You have asked Firefox to connect securely to, but we can't confirm that your connection is secure.

    Normally, when you try to connect securely, sites will present trusted identification to prove that you are going to the right place. However, this site's identity can't be verified.

  • 0 Hide
    byte_my_bits , October 24, 2013 12:28 PM
    What a red herring.
    Software that is self-aware to the point of improving itself? Is that the premise?
    You could literally offer 1 Billion, even 1 Trillion. Not gonna happen.

    Hey guys, humans are self-aware, and we have not even come close to the ability to re-write our own code...even basic stuff, like instant (or even relatively faster) foreign language uptake or something similarly benign...we got nothing.

    That's not even how evolution supposedly have to allow for many changes that are detrimental (like cancer), to account for the freedom required for those small changes that are potentially beneficial (perhaps with a changing environment).

    They are literally asking for something that has had no precedent in reality. This is akin to offering 2 million for a Star Trek transporter and expecting anything to result of interest...
  • 0 Hide
    Vorador2 , October 25, 2013 2:38 AM
    DARPA may pay 2 millions, but Microsoft would pay 2 billions to make it happen. This kind of software would require huge breakthroughs in learning algorithms that would be aware of what's considered a security flaw and what's an intended feature, never mind how to patch it without breaking functionality or compatibility.

    Just code new features, implement them and the system would search, find the bugs and security flaws and correct them without any intervention on the programmer side.

    Not gonna happen in our lifetime.
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