"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.
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.
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.