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DARPA wants weapons-grade military cloud computing

The clouds of war gather over the Pentagon

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Got your doubts about how resilient and secure cloud services might be? You're not alone: legendary Pentagon tech bureau DARPA has launched a push to toughen cloud tech up and make it fighting fit for the cyber wars of tomorrow.

The US tech-warriors have dubbed their armoured cloud project Mission-oriented Resilient Clouds (MRC). Full details aren't yet available, but some information has been released in a proposer's day announcement (pdf). According to DARPA:

Cloud computing is a rapidly emerging trend within both the commercial sector and the Department of Defense (DOD). A plan released by the Federal Chief Information Officer’s Council (CIO) in December 2010 for reforming Government Information Technology (IT) included a requirement that agencies adopt a "cloud-first" policy for new IT deployments.

It is propelled by three related driving forces: 1) the economics of large scale computation infrastructure (e.g., data-centers), 2) the ability to provide fungible computation on demand, and 3) the ability to centralize vast collections of data for common analytics.

This is a problem, however:

Cloud computing infrastructures, in particular, tightly integrate large numbers of hosts using high speed interconnection fabrics that can serve to propagate attacks even more rapidly than conventional networked systems. Today's hosts, of course, are highly vulnerable, but even if the hosts within a cloud are reasonably secure, any residual vulnerability in the hosts will be amplified dramatically.

DARPA already has a project intended to provide secure hosts, perhaps rather unfortunately dubbed Clean-slate design of Resilient, Adaptive, Secure Hosts (CRASH). The idea with MRC is to assemble CRASH units into tough war clouds able to perform "mission-oriented computation" even while sustaining losses due to hostile action.

As to how this is to be achieved, the agency boffins merely note that "clouds and distributed computing environments can: provide redundant hosts, correlate attack information from across the ensemble and, provide for diversity across the network". More information will be forthcoming at a conference for proposers in Virginia on 26 May, and probably in further announcements. ®

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