DARPA wants novel security technology to protect SCADA, embedded systems

DARPA sets ambitious program to secure myriad networked systems

Technologists from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will this month detail a new program it wants to develop that can secure embedded ssyems in everything from large supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that manage physical infrastructure, to medical devices, computer peripherals such as printers and routers, to communication devices such as cell phones and radios, vehicles, airplanes and satellites.

From DARPA: " Embedded systems have been networked for a variety of reasons, including the ability to conveniently access diagnostic information, perform software updates, provide innovative features, lower costs, and improve ease of use.  Researchers and hackers have shown that these kinds of networked, embedded systems are vulnerable to remote attack and that such attacks can cause physical damage while hiding the effects from monitors."

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The High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS) program looks to develop and build technology for what DARPA calls "high-assurance cyber-physical systems, where high assurance is defined to mean functionally correct and satisfying appropriate safety and security properties."  HACMS will focus on cyber-physical systems in the vehicle space, but it is anticipated that the tools and techniques developed in the program will be relevant to other kinds of systems as well. HACMS will produce a set of open source tools integrated into a software workbench, which will be widely distributed for use in both the commercial and defense software sectors, DARPA stated.

Key HACMS technologies include semi-automated software synthesis systems, verification tools such as theorem provers and model checkers, and specification languages. HACMS aims to produce a set of publicly available tools integrated into a high-assurance software workbench, widely distributed to both defense and commercial sectors. In the defense sector, HACMS plans to enable high-assurance military systems ranging from unmanned ground, air and underwater vehicles, to weapons systems, satellites, and command and control devices.

"Achieving HACMS' goal requires a fundamentally different approach from what the software community has taken to date. HACMS will adopt a clean-slate, formal methods-based approach that enables semi-automated code synthesis from executable, formal specifications. In addition to generating code, such a synthesizer will produce a machine-checkable proof that the generated code satisfies the functional specification as well as appropriate security and safety policies," DARPA stated. 

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DARPA said it will hold a proposers day to discuss the particulars of HACMS on February 21, 2012 in Arlington, VA.

Embedded systems have been the target of DARPA research in the past few weeks. In January the agency said it was looking to develop technologies for embedded and other systems that could bolster system power output from today's 1 GFLOPS/watt  to 75 GFLOPS/watt.

"Examples show we need at least 50 GFLOPS/w, and requirements of at least 75 GFLOPS/w can be confidently anticipated.  Current systems provide in the order of 1 GFLOPS/w and industry trends will provide power efficiencies that are well short of required performance," DARPA stated.  The goal of the program, called Power Efficiency Revolution For Embedded Computing Technologies or PERFECT,  is to take a revolutionary approach to processing power efficiency.  "This approach includes near threshold voltage operation, massive heterogeneous processing concurrency, and novel architectural developments combined with techniques to effectively utilize the resulting concurrency and tolerate the resulting increased rate of soft errors."

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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