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War Games: DARPA Adds Oculus Rift Support to Cyberwar

The Oculus Rift.

The Oculus Rift.

The Oculus Rift is a virtual-reality headset that makes wearers feel as if they're in a video game. It might also help United States military personnel feel like they're "in" the Internet.

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on a 3D visualization of online networks called Plan X — the idea is that hacking enemy networks would be easier if the data were arranged spatially, as in a video game — and it's now adding Oculus Rift to the project, according to a report by Andy Greenberg of technology site Wired News.

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The idea is for Plan X to be a 3D interface that makes military personnel and contractors feel like they're within the networks they're trying to hack. The interface also gives them easy access to a number of "tools" for both defense and offense in cyber conflict.

"You can look around the data. You look to your left, look to your right, and see different subnets of information," Frank Pound, Plan X program manager, told Greenberg. "With the Oculus, you have that immersive environment. It's like you're swimming in the Internet."

Plan X may sound like a video game, but DARPA has plans to use this technology in real combat situations.

"Say we want to turn out the lights in some place where we have boots on the ground, but it's on a subnet connected to a hospital," Pound told Greenberg. "We want to war-game that kind of situation with high assurance."

Plan X is years away from being used in actual cyber-combat situations, but Greenberg did see a proof-of-concept demo that included the Oculus Rift at the Pentagon Wednesday (May 21). 

The demo could easily be mistaken for a video game, with its neon blue spiderweb-like representations of computer networks and glowing icons representing different actions the user can take. 

Greenberg saw DARPA employees demonstrating a series of "missions" in Plan X, in which users "entered" a network and selected from a set of "tools," such as scanning a network or searching for vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, the simulated "enemy" counterattacked with distributed denial-of-service attacks and other tactics.

Pound told Greenberg the Oculus Rift Plan X demo has already been shown to members of Congress and the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

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