Science

DARPA Launches 'Plan X' to Defeat Chinese and Russian Hackers

By | Mar 29, 2015 07:35 AM EDT
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Cyberenemy Number 1

The building in Shanghai housing Unit 61398, a Chinese military group that's part of the People's Liberation Army's Third Department, which is responsible for most of China's cyberattacks against the U.S(Photo : Reuters)

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA has announced the activation of what it calls "Plan X", a comprehensive program to thwart hack attacks by the Chinese, Russians and other cyberthreats to the national security of the United States.

Plan X is the first major attempt by the U.S. to create an actual online battle space that will also fundamentally shift the way the U.S. military operates on the virtual battlefields of the future. It will give U.S. cyberwarriors instantaneous knowledge of the fact their networks are being attacked.

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It will also streamline the U.S. military's ability to defend against cyberattacks by building an "app store" where cyberoperations are stored, ready to instantly deploy.

DARPA said the system is so simple to use that simply moving a hand across a touchscreen monitor allows a user to locate hacker computers. Hack attacks are translated into rich display graphics and 3D visualizations so it's impossible to miss them as they occur.

Military specialists will be able to defend against attacks by dragging blocks of code from a virtual shelf or marketplace (similar to Apple's App Store) onto their network. They will also use 3D visors like the Oculus Rift, a video gaming headset, to launch their own attacks or counterattacks in virtual reality.

Plan X is one of three new programs that will allow the U.S. to prevail in any future cyber conflict, said Arati Prabhakar, head of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.

"A significant advantage (in cyberspace), yes, I think that is something we can achieve," she said, "by using these tools and techniques but also having the people that know how to use them, use them to great effect."

She said Plan X is vital to winning against state-sponsored cyber threats such as those from China's secret hacking group called "Unit 61398" because protecting U.S. networks from computer attacks is as important to the military as defending the country's air, land, sea and space.

DARPA is building another program to develop what Prabhakar describes as "provably correct software, systems that can't be hacked for specified security properties."

This program is particularly important to guard against those seeking to break into the operating systems of small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

Another program is a Cyber Grand Challenge to automate defensive operations. This competition that will award millions of dollars in prizes will have computers automatically defend against cyberattacks in "a much more scalable, machine-speed fashion than human beings typing as fast as they can," said Prabhakar.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said a potential compromise of online systems and theft of information is the No. 1 threat to US national security, more so than terrorist groups or weapons of mass destruction.

Details about Plan X can be seen on Passcode, The Christian Science Monitor's new section on cybersecurity at http://passcode.csmonitor.com/planx.

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