The Code That Hacks Itself
Raytheon innovation advances in DARPA contest
It's like a home-security system that's always looking for ways to break in – the windows, the dog door, the chimney – then locks them, seals them or slaps on a set of iron bars.
That's the approach a team of Raytheon cybersecurity engineers is taking to create a computer program that finds security flaws in software and fixes them almost instantly. The effort is part of a Pentagon-sponsored contest to shore up data security as more everyday items connect to the Internet.
“DeepRed,” a team of engineers from Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business, is developing the software for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Cyber Grand Challenge. The name is a nod to both Raytheon's red logo and IBM's famous Deep Blue supercomputer.
After taking first place at a preliminary round in December, the team triumphed again in June to earn a spot in the final competition at the hacker convention DEF CON, which takes place in August 2016 in Las Vegas. The winner will receive $2 million.
“We still have a lot of problems to solve, and by no means is this the end of the game,” said Brian Knudson, a DeepRed team member. “We have a lot of work to do, and between now and June, there’s a lot of opportunity for the other teams to improve.”
The final round will consist of seven souped-up supercomputers, fully autonomous, battling head-to-head in a high-tech game of “capture the flag.” The entries must reverse-engineer software created by the contest’s organizers, then find and heal its hidden weaknesses.
Men and Women vs. Microprocessors
That’s no easy task. Human hackers historically have hunted for and uncovered holes that have eluded automated defenses such as firewalls, antivirus protection and intrusion-detection software. Some have gone undetected for years; DARPA wants a system that can find and fix them in milliseconds.
The contest pits the logic and brute computational power of supercomputers against the adaptability of human intelligence – intuition and instincts that are not programmable.
“To beat human hackers, we’ll need develop algorithms and encode our machine with the knowledge and skills of the most elite hackers,” said Tim Bryant, another member of Raytheon’s team. “It will need the wits of a human and the ability to sift through data in an intelligent fashion. The greatest advantage the computer has is its faster, and can work 24/7. It never sleeps.”
He said the contest “could change the balance of power between hackers and defenders.”
Bryant and Knudson said the contest has given the team both an enthralling challenge and an important mission.
“This could have significant implications in the security of our country and national defense,” Knudson said. “It’s not just a game.”