Feeds

DARPA slaps $2m on the bar for the ULTIMATE security bug SLAYER

Brown trousers time for some in antivirus industry

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

It's a bad day for the vulnerability scanning industry: DARPA has announced a new multi-million-dollar competition to build a system that will be able to automatically analyze code, find its weak spots, and patch them against attack.

Mike Walker, DARPA program manager, said that the challenge was to start a "revolution for information security" and said that today's detection software left much room for improvement.

"Today, our time to patch a newly discovered security flaw is measured in days," he 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."

Teams have until January 14, 2014, to put themselves forward, then they'll be expected to come up with tech that can scrutinize and patch a system without any human intervention. Up to $750,000 in funding will be available to teams that have plausible designs for fixing security holes in a basket of commercially available software; early trials will take place this December to weed out weaker applicants.

The competition's final will be held in early to mid-2016. The submitted vulnerability scanners must automatically find and patch flaws in code in real-world conditions in order to win: a cash prize of $2m is waiting for the best-performing team, $1m for the loser, and $750,000 to console the runner-up.

The agency hopes its Cyber Grand Challenge will encourage the development of systems that mimic the abilities of programmers skilled in reasoning their way to finding code flaws. The security industry is still basing much of its work on reactive signature-spotting tech, DARPA said, rather than building heuristic programs that identify a problem before it becomes one.

“The growth trends we’ve seen in cyber attacks and malware point to a future where automation must be developed to assist IT security analysts,” said Dan Kaufman, director of DARPA’s information innovation office.

DARPA likened the competition to that which spurred the development of automatic vehicles nearly a decade ago. While that has certainly helped spur the automatic car industry, this new challenge may cause some problems for the vulnerability-scanning industry.

For the larger firms that have built a lucrative industry from signature-based scanning the announcement is a warning of tough times ahead. If someone does build a system capable of finding and patching flaws far faster than what's on the market then their industry is doomed.

On the other hand, for independent security researchers, things could be looking very good indeed. The cash on offer gives a strong incentive for novel approaches, and maybe some good will come of casting bread upon the waters, as Robert Heinlein suggested.

"Automated patching within seconds? Sounds like a great idea, and I can imagine it working well on the Starship Enterprise," security watcher and former Sophos specialist Graham Cluley told El Reg.

"However, in reality I suspect this would be a very difficult to achieve in a way which would win the confidence and trust of large businesses. Good luck to them - but I'm not holding my breath."

DARPA is not claiming any control over the technology demonstrated in the challenge, just the right to license it on reasonable terms. Non-US teams are invited to participate, subject to export laws and security controls.

Most of the self-driving car team that won that DARPA challenge ended up at Google on plush salaries, so some seriously talented security savant might face a seriously large payday that makes the agency's cash prize look paltry in comparison. ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Brit celebs' homes VANISH from Google's Street View
Tony Blair's digs now a Tone-y Blur
German government orders local CIA station chief to pack his bags
Sour Krauts arrest second local in domestic spy ring probe
Doctor Who season eight scripts leak online
BBC asks fans to EXTERMINATE copies before they materialise
Snowden leaks latest: NSA, FBI g-men spied on Muslim-American chiefs
US Navy veteran? Lawmaker? Academic? You're all POTENTIAL TERRORISTS
UK's emergency data slurp: IT giants panicked over 'legal uncertainty'
PM says rushed-through DRIP law will 'plug holes' in existing legislation
Russian MP fears US Secret Service cuffed his son for Snowden swap
Seleznev Jnr is 'prolific trafficker in stolen credit card data', it is alleged
Teensy card skimmers found in gullets of ATMs
Hi-tech fraudsters treading more softly, but gas still yielding bang for buck
Adobe Flash: The most INSECURE program on a UK user's PC
XML a weak spot, but nothing's as dire as Adobe player
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem
Download this brochure to find five ways HP BladeSystem can optimize your business with the power of one.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.