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DARPA Sets Cyber Foundations with ‘Plan X’

by Kris Osborn on May 14, 2014

Cyber Command officials define unit's scopeDefense Advanced Research Project Agency leaders told lawmakers the agency is making progress with an ongoing cyber security project known as Plan X to increase cyber visibility and provide a new foundation for the fast-developing world of cyber warfare moving into the future.

“Plan X is a foundational cyber warfare program that we are building to allow us to have the visibility and the understanding of cyberspace so that we could start to deal with how cyber warfare is happening today and where it will be in the future,” DARPA director Arati Prabhaker told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee May 14.  “We think it will be integral to the kinetic warfighting of the future.”

Prabhakar emphasized that cyber security needs to not only look at computers and networks but also address embedded systems.

“One of our researchers a couple of years ago showed they could hack the speedometer on a car. All of our embedded military systems are also vulnerable. Everything has a computer in it today,” she said.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., praised DARPA for its involvement in the development of the internet and asked about progress with Plan X.

“It is my understanding that DARPA is currently working to develop a cyber-warfare program which would allow DoD to create platforms to plan for and counter cyber warfare just as it would for kinetic threats. How important is sustained funding for DARPAs cyber security efforts?” Shelby asked.

Prabhakar told lawmakers Plan X was among DARPA’s highest priorities.  In February, DARPA awarded Raytheon a $9.8 million deal to work on Plan X.

Finding priorities is increasingly important for science and technology efforts because the $11.5 billion S&T budget request for 2015 is about a 5 percent drop from 2014, said Mr. Alan Shaffer, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, Research and Engineering.

“I think we’re all familiar with the challenges our businesses and our national security enterprise face because of cyber attacks that are happening on a constant basis. We want to give our senior decision makers the ability to see what’s happening in cyber space,” she said.

The concerns with cyber threats are not restricted to nation-states and organizations but rather extend to individuals as well, Prabhakar said.

“So many individuals have at their fingertips now the ability to participate in this domain, for better or worse. We think conflicts in the cyber environment will continue to escalate,’’ she added.

Some of the language written into DARPA’s Plan X Broad Agency Announcement when launching the effort toward the end of 2012 indicates a desire to strengthen understanding of cyberspace through additional research.

“The military is seeking to measure, quantify, and understand cyberspace. The military’s current

understanding and awareness in the cyber domain produces integration challenges with existing military capabilities in other domains. While existing technology can infer network  topologies — how computers are connected to one another — using trace route, packet analysis, and other techniques, the current research is just beginning to try to answer specific questions about the cyber domain, ” the BAA states.

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